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: 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

 

Weekend Fragrance Bargains

Weekend Fragrance Bargains

I got some great fragrance bargains this weekend! One I had ordered several days ago, but it came this weekend: Missoni Missoni, the older version by Maurice Roucel to which Luca Turin awarded five stars. It has been discontinued and was replaced in 2015 by a completely different fragrance. I had been hoping to try Roucel’s version, and had been disappointed once when an online discounter showed a photo of that one but sent the new one. When I saw that Perfumania had 1 oz. bottles of the eau de parfum for under $20, I thought, why not take a chance and try again? And yes, it’s the right one, in the orange-toned box with the short, tilted bottle. It is very intriguing, and so far I like it a lot.

I also found some little treasures at T.J. Maxx — I love that, because in return for very modest amounts of money, I get to expand my familiarity with different combinations of notes and knowledge of fragrance. The list: Clean White Woods: $16.00 for 2 oz.; Tokyomilk Dark No . 28 Excess, 1.6 oz. for $7.99; Vera Bradley Macaroon Rose, .5 oz. for $5.99.

A slightly more splurgey purchase was Guerlain’s Terracottareduced on saks.com from $79 to $49 (helpful info from another blogger!). I thought I could pick it up in person at my local SFA; was very surprised to find they had no Guerlain counter at all and only had Shalimar in stock at the store! The friendly sales associate told me that Guerlain had been pulling out of most US department stores — thank goodness, they still seem to be fully present at the Neiman Marcus in my city. Anyway, she was lovely enough to show me some new By Kilian fragrances instead and sent me home with a couple of samples: Forbidden Games and Moonlight In Heaven (I especially liked the latter). Then I went over to Nordstrom (in the same mall) and got samples of Tom Ford’s new Vert fragrances: Vert BohemeVert d’EncensVert de FleurVert des Bois.

Set of green mossy furniture, chairs, sofa, table, outside.

Moss furniture; image from Black Burge Art blog.

None of those would qualify as fragrance bargains if I had bought full bottles! I’m delighted with my free samples, though, and I appreciate that Nordstrom just put them out on the counter with a note saying: “Take One, It’s Yours!”.  I really liked Vert Boheme and Vert de Fleur. But if I’m going to spring for a pricier green fragrance this year, it will be Papillon‘s Dryad. I am so eager to try this! Several blogs I follow have detailed, enthusiastic reviews: Megan in Sainte Maxime, Kafkaesque, The Candy Perfume Boy, A Bottled Rose. I have a birthday coming up, so who knows?

Have you tried any of the fragrances mentioned here? What did you think? And what’s your next fragrance splurge?

Mosaiculture topiary of earth goddess at Atlanta Botanical Garden

Earth Goddess, Atlanta Botanical Garden

Featured image: Atlanta Botanical Garden.

 

Sixteen92

This year’s Art and Olfaction Award winner in the Artisan category, Bruise Violet by Sixteen92 and perfumer Claire Baxter, was favorably noted last year by Luca Turin. I look forward to trying it!

perfumesilove

images.pngReaders of The Economist and jaundiced realists like myself will not be surprised to hear that diversity and competition are the engines of creation. Add to that the magic element of surplus, i.e. a surfeit of talented art school graduates chasing too few jobs, and you have the makings of a revolution. This is precisely what happened in postwar Italy: too many architects + too few interesting things to build = Italian Design. A similar thing may be happening in perfumery, thanks to the Web and despite the insane restrictions on the shipping of “dangerous” goods.

This may explain why I keep getting sample sets from people who have not gone through the rigorous and  mostly disheartening training process that steers passionate apprentice perfumers towards decades of drudgery and imitation. Sixteen92 is headed by Claire Baxter who describes herself  as an “Art school-educated former advertising Creative Director, fine art photographer and classically trained…

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They’re Baaaaack!

Announced this week: Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are updating their guide to perfume with a twice-yearly review roundup! See this post and thread on Basenotes. Welcome back, I can’t wait to read what you write!

Fragrance Friday: Daily Post -“Aromatic”

Fragrance Friday: Daily Post -“Aromatic”

I don’t normally do the WordPress “Daily Post”, but one of this week’s word prompts caught my eye: “aromatic.” Well, I certainly have a response to that, as some of my favorite fragrances have aromatic qualities, even if they aren’t primarily classified as “aromatics”. But let’s start with a classic: the aptly named “Aromatics Elixir” by Clinique.

In many ways, Aromatics Elixir is a quintessential 1970s fragrance. It was launched at the start of that decade, created by the great perfumer Bernard Chant, for a new brand (Clinique) of the Estee Lauder company. It is green, dry, herbal and strong. Its creators positioned it as a “non-conformist chypre”, a perfume ahead of its time, that went “beyond perfume.” To me, it is in many ways the scent of 1970s feminism: independent, strong, challenging traditional strictures without becoming androgynous. Very in-your-face and unapologetic, but with its own beauty. If I were to assign a face to it, I would choose 1970s supermodel Lauren Hutton, a non-conformist beauty with her gap teeth and American style. Hutton had a chameleon-like quality, able to pull off effortless elegance in couture evening wear but showing off that same great bone structure in a plain white shirt, outdoors in the fresh air. Whenever I picture her in my mind, she is outside.

Supermodel Lauren Hutton in 1975

Lauren Hutton, 1975

Luca Turin describes the impact of Aromatics Elixir thus: “Smelling Aromatics Elixir on a strip and especially in the air following a string of ‘modern’ fragrances is like watching Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep after twelve episodes of Cheers.” That pretty much sums it up; as he notes, Aromatics Elixir “achieves at once salubrious radiance and luxurious dusk.”

But Bernard Chant created another great aromatic fragrance for Estee Lauder, shortly before Aromatics Elixir: 1969’s Azuree. I was lucky enough to find an affordable, unopened tester of Azuree parfum online – wow. This is a really complex fragrance with a lot of different notes balanced against each other. Luca Turin calls it a “citrus leather” with a leather-chypre heart and gives it five stars, contrasting its ongoing fidelity to the original vision of its creator with the sad dismantling of his other leathery masterpiece, Cabochard. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: top notes – aldehydes, artemisia, gardenia, basil, sage, bergamot; middle notes – cyclamen, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, geranium, vetiver, rose; base notes – leather, amber, patchouli, musk and oakmoss. My bottle is labeled as “parfum”, not “eau de parfum”, and both its strength and longevity bear that out, as does the slightly oily slick on my skin when I first spray it on. Other commenters have noted the excellent spray nozzle on this bottle, which allows you to spray a small amount in fine droplets. That is all you need! Azuree is strong stuff!

On my skin, Azuree opens with a jolt of aldehydes, bergamot and artemisia, with herbal tones from the basil and sage top notes, although I can’t distinguish those separately.  In the middle stage, I mostly smell orris root (really delightful and earthy, with an underlying carroty sweetness), vetiver and a hint of ylang-ylang. The story behind Azuree is that Estee Lauder, founder of the cosmetics empire, wanted to capture the outdoor scents of Cap d’Antibes on the azure sea of the French Riviera, where she had a villa in the years when Cap d’Antibes still looked more like the landscapes painted by Claude Monet and other Impressionists than the overbuilt hodge-podge it has become. Azuree does have a Mediterranean aura of dryness, citrus, herbs, and pine resin, as if one were looking down a dry Riviera coastline toward the stone pines of Juan-les-Pins from a sunlit Mediterranean garden. While roses, cyclamens and geraniums are listed among the heart notes, and they are all Mediterranean flowers that might grow in such a garden, along with the green herbs listed among the top notes, I really can’t pick them out.

View of the cliff garden, sea and boats, from garden of villa in French Riviera

View from villa in the French Riviera

As it dries down, Azuree becomes more leathery, dry and oak-mossy. At this stage, it LASTS.  If I put it on my wrists at night, I can still clearly smell its final drydown stage the next morning. Like Aromatics Elixir, this fragrance is so very different from the current trends of sweet, fruity or gourmand scents! It doesn’t smell old-fashioned at all, it smells almost radical. Yet at the same time, if one were to characterize it as a person, one might describe a free-spirited young woman, wearing no make up but with an “old soul” gazing from her eyes. Definitely one of the great beauties of the 1970s. If Aromatics Elixir is Lauren Hutton, Azuree is Margaux Hemingway, whose grandfather famously spent so much time on the unspoilt Riviera with the most glamorous, unconventional creatives of the day.

Supermodel Margaux Hemingway

Margaux Hemingway

May Muguet Marathon: Premier Muguet

May Muguet Marathon: Premier Muguet

Premier Muguet by Bourjois is a bit of a mystery. The nose behind it is listed in many places as Ernest Beaux, creator of the legendary Chanel No. 5 and Chanel No. 22, among other Chanel fragrances. Bois de Jasmin has a wonderful post about him, which is mostly in his own words, a magazine article he wrote about perfumery, translated from French. M. Beaux created a few perfumes for Bourjois (a cosmetics house whose early, but not first, owners were the Wertheimer family and which was sold just last year to Coty), including an early favorite and perhaps their most famous fragrance, Soir de Paris,  or Evening in Paris. He is supposed to have created Premier Muguet for Bourjois in 1955, during the same decade when others were creating muguet fragrances like the legendary Diorissimo and Caron’s Muguet du Bonheur.

UPDATE: the master and perfume legend Luca Turin, now blogging on WordPress at perfumesIlove, sent me this information which he kindly solicited from perfume historian Will Inrig: that Premier Muguet was in fact created in 1955 by Henri Robert, the nose behind Coty’s Muguet des Bois, who had recently joined the house of Bourjois-Chanel (they were jointly owned at that point). I have a small bottle of what I believe is the eau de cologne of Premier Muguet, full and in its original box and bottle.

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