22.10.14

Goti - Smoke: A Hidden Gem.



Goti is an italian brand mainly focused on high-end and avant-garde jewelry using the most unusual materials together with precious metals and gems. Sometime in 2008 they collaborated with Santa Maria Novella's perfumers to start their own line of fragrances and delivered three compositions (Black, Earth and White) that, for the most part, had flown under the radars. Both because they were poorly distributed and not advertised at all.

In 2013, they re-designed the packaging, reformulated their previous range (this time working with historical florentine pharmaceutical lab from the 30s, Laboratorio Therapeutico M.R.) and introduced two new perfumes of which Smoke is my personal standout. Now, given the name, if you're expecting a fireplace type of smoky thing, get ready for a disappointment because Smoke is anything but that. Instead, if you're after a radiant and modern incensey thing, you'll have much to love here.

Smoke opens with a sour-ish and fizzy accord that makes me literally salivating. On one side there's the red and slightly sweet fruity vibe of pomegranate juxtaposed to the zesty and aromatic quality of the ginger. It feels sparkling, joyful and even light-hearted if you want but never dull. The top notes tame down pretty soon but they keep on lingering throughout the rest of the evolution of the fragrance which is made out of a darker, simple yet pretty impeccably executed crispy incense with woody notes as reinforcement. There's a nose-tingling thing going on throughout that might vaguely remember of gasoline or other kind of combustibles. The woods are smooth and elegant as opposed to the sickening powerful synth-woody notes we often experience in modern masculines and eastern-themed compositions.

Overall, I would suggest Smoke to those who like the more incensey Comme Des Garcons or certain fragrances by Olivier Durbano (especially Citrine, Lapis Philosophorum and Heliotrope). It's a modern aesthetic, restrained, quirky and effortlessly elegant.

Quick note on the packaging which is simple but very striking in a post-Owens way. The bottle design is pretty much the same for all of their fragrances but you can choose to have your bottle in chrome-finish porcelain (cheaper) or plain metal (much more expensive). Big 100ml bottles come with a leather bulb-pump which is simply stunning. All of the bottles come is a plain black box wrapped in a black leather belt.

Rating: 7-7.5/10

18.10.14

Rancé 1795 l L'Aigle De la Victoire: Dare If You Can!

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

L'Aigle De La Victoire, from the Rancè 1795 Collecion Impériale, is an uncompromising, straight-forward and extremely potent skanky / woody leather that immediately gained a spot up there together with the most popular testosterone-monsters in this genre.

I'm gonna give you a bunch of parameters so that you can't say you haven't been warned of what kind of monster this is. Rien and Leather Oud are the first ones that come to mind. If not for objective similarities (which are there BTW), surely for their striking and uncompromising iterations of leather…but then also, Boadicea The Victorious Complex, Mazzolari Lui, Montecristo, Oud 27, Yatagan, Parfum D'Habit…ok I'll stop it here.

So, it's an hardcore sweaty leather with a thick animalic presence and green-resinoid (incense) facets. A dirty patch note reinforces the overall dark-woody vibe by providing a kind of creepy vein. The most interesting aspect though, is that L'Aigle De La Vctoire is built around an extremely classic bone structure that brings to mind of several masculine chypres of the past while still feeling anything but derivative. Again, thick, ballsy, daring and, in the end, even reasonably priced. Kudos to Rancè 1795 for delivering such a anachronistic and unapologetic beauty.

Tremendous sillage and beyond exceptional longevity. Skank-lovers, you've been warned. The others, should probably stay carefully away from this.

Rating: 8.5-9/10

16.10.14

Masque Fragranze - Russian Tea: The Warmest Winter.



My first instinct would be to start with "what a surprise!" but then, if I think about it, this is more like a confirmation than actually a surprise. The work Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are doing with their Masque line is definitely something not to overlook and Russian Tea represents just the newest chapter in their already important and noteworthy path started with humongous releases such as Montecristo, Tango and Terralba.

For Russian Tea they worked with cult-perfumer Jacques Rasquinet who previously collaborated with the likes of Naomi Goodsir (for whom he delivered what have become one of my all-time favorites, Bois D'Ascese) and Andrea Maack amongst others. An extremely talented perfumer who's rapidly becoming the undisputed master of smoky notes. The result of this collaboration strikes as a sort of hypothetical lovechild of Guerlain Herba Fresca and the much overlooked Eau Du Fier by Annick Goutal…well, this is honestly kind of a stretch but it might give you an idea on the axis this fragrance moves on, anyway. Smoky, aromatic, dark, fresh, leathery and…bittersweet.




There's clearly a mint note up top which while completely skipping the typical (and annoying) toothpaste effect, it's immediately joined by the most realistic smoky black-tea rendition I've experienced in quite a while. The pairing of the two gives birth to a fantastic juxtaposition all played around moderately sweet fresh notes and darker smoky ones. It's funny how in this phase, while smelling somewhat refreshing, the fragrance doesn't fail to show its darker side with an overall wintery vibe. It's a modern accord made out of bittersweet juxtapositions and just a hint of red-fruitiness. A modern accord where smoke it's relevant but not overwhelming and where tea is left to express and unveil all of its aromatic and evocative qualities. 

Slowly, the base starts lurking in the back… 




The evolution from the opening to the middle phase and the drydown is slow, smooth and completely flawless. A much darker central accord of smoky woods remarks it presence and takes form while joined by a leather-incense combo with some immortelle providing extra body. It gets darker and darker with time. Deeper and deeper, warmer and warmer, drier and drier… At traces, it made me think of a more aromatic version of Comme Des Garcons Black (the immortelle-leather-incense combo is really not that distant) but whereas the CDG feels urban and sort of punk-ish, Russian Tea pushes on melancholy and coziness by evoking immense rural landscapes during winter. Traditional rituals, historic buildings, fireplaces and time spent meditating and traveling. 

Now, I'm impressed for way too many reasons. First of all, this a fragrance which is a total pleasure to wear on many different levels. It'd make one hell of a signature as well as something distinctive for special occasions. It's easy to like but has so much substance. Daring but not weird, solidly built and conceived and, most of all, perfectly sized. Longevity is beyond good while silage is discreet but remarkable. An entirely elegant composition that's able to standout and feel distinctive without being necessarily odd or pretentiously *arty*. Masque's Montecristo was one of my favorite fragrances of 2013 and Russian Tea will most definitely be amongst my favorites of 2014. With that said, there's really no doubts on my side that Masque is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting and solid outfits of this second decade of 2000. 

Kudos!

Rating: 8.5-9/10

15.10.14

Guest Reviewer Of The Day: Claire Vukcevic aka ClaireV.


Claire Vukcevic is a part-time blogger on the blog Fragrancedaily.com and member of Basenotes (ClaireV). She spends money she doesn’t have on perfumes and then writes novel-length reviews of them. But she can’t help it. 

For other reviews by Claire Vukcevic you might want to check Basenotes or Fragrance Daily


Chypre Palatin by Parfums MDCI - Palatial Chypre

I am a big Henry James fan. Or at least I used to be until one day at school, my fifth form English Lit teacher pulled a copy of The Golden Bowl out of my school bag and gasped, “You’re reading this? Oh dear me, no – this is far too difficult for you. It will put you off James for life.” But I had already read The Golden Bowl. In fact, I had waltzed through it, not realizing that it was supposed to be difficult. But do you know what? From that day forward, I have struggled with Henry James. Once someone points out that something is difficult or complex, it becomes so. Like someone flipping that switch in your brain between unthinking enjoyment and sudden, painful self-awareness.

I love Chypre Palatin with my unthinking part of my brain. I know, on a purely intellectual level, that it is a Henry James type of scent – grand, complex, full of moving parts clicking into place. The notes list on Basenotes alone contains twenty separate notes, about two thirds of which I can’t pick up at all. It doesn’t matter. I slip into Chypre Palatin with a shiver of unadulterated pleasure every time, just as easily as my unthinking brain once slid into Henry James. 

Chypres are not usually so easy for me – there is something about them that require me to switch the analysis part of my brain on. Something about the bristling bergamot beginning and the bitter backbone of mosses has always called to mind that scene in Titantic where Rose sees a mother is tapping her six-year old daughter on the spine to get her to straighten up. I admire the formality of chypres, and their immensely ordered, complex structure, but I find it difficult to breathe easily within their confines. 



But Chypre Palatin, I am beginning to understand, is one of those strange hybrids between
chypre and oriental that manage to combine the grandeur of the former with the comfortable, sweet, oozing sensuality of the latter. A soft landing for the bitter Chypre DNA, so to speak. Chypre Palatin belongs, therefore, to a special group of perfumes that includes Puredistance M, Jubilation 25, Une Rose Chypree, and even Guerlain’s masterpiece, Vol de Nuit. What these perfumes have in common is a chypre-like dressing of moss and bergamot, and maybe some other green, bitter, or herbal accents (usually up top), but combined with a base that feels utterly oriental, so that the fragrance starts its journey in an upright position and ends it in a supine position on a soft divan covered with furs and minks in a Sultan’s harem. These chypre-oriental hybrids are massively built, bristling with ambition, and big enough feet to stand in (and tower over) several genres at once – chypre, oriental, leather, animalics, and so on. They are not so much unisex as they are omni-sex. 


Chypre Palatin, for example, has a brief bergamot beginning, like a blush of first light over
the horizon at dawn, and a heart of authentic oakmoss that goes on forever, but these accents are married to a lush vanilla and a warmly animalic castoreum in the base, ensuring that the whole thing feels comfortably sensual. It is very masculine in feel, like Puredistance M, but the vanilla and castoreum in the base make it so cozy and sensual that I really can’t imagine its testosterone-fueled heart would put any woman off. It feels grand, dusty, old-school, reassuringly masculine, and solid. 

Chypre Palatin strikes me as a modern-day Vol de Nuit, in a way. Not in terms of smell, but for the fact that they are both grand, baroque-scaled perfumes recalling a more romantic past than the time in which they were created. Also, despite all of that ambitious scale and reach, they both feel perfectly intimate and suitable for quiet, homebound pleasures. Chypre Palatin might be the Golden Bowl of its genre, but I enjoy it in that simple, instinctive way I used to enjoy Henry James before the thinking part of my brain was switched on. Just don’t listen to anyone who tells you it is a difficult or complex thing.

Rating: 9/10


   

14.10.14

Hermessence Cuir D'Ange: A *New* Leather.


First of all first: Finally, an Hermessence I like.

I actually like a bunch of them and while I think JC Ellena is one of the undisputed masters of modern perfumery, I can't still count myself amongst the hardcore fans of Hermessence's *watercolor* interpretations of fragrances…with that said, Cuir D'Ange, just like Osmanthe Yunnan and a few others from the line, it's a tremendous exception.

I'd divide leathers in two main groups for this review. On one side I'll put the classic, animalic-driven floral leathers a-la Cuir De Russie and Knize 10 (to name just two of the most popular in this category). Well, I'm a total sucker for this interpretation of the main theme but the problem with these old-school type of compositions is that they gave birth to a plethora of clones (and semi-clones) that while I still quite like most of them, I also think they're all more or less kind of redundant (Cuir Cannage, Cuir Mauresque, Xerjoff Homme, Royal English Leather, Etro Gomma…and countless others). On the other side, there are the modern and hyper modern leathers a-la Cuir Pleine Fleurs, Alan Cumming's Cumming, Comme Des Garcons EDP 2011, Askew…

Well, Cuir D'Ange, while feeling somewhat classic (as in *classy*) it's also unquestionably modern. It's a new take on the floral-leather theme achieved by learning the lesson of the classics and bringing it to completely new territories. Yes, all of the Hermessence's hallmarks are there and make of Cuir D'Ange such a refreshing and novel delivery in a genre that's too often becoming a caricature of itself. I won't spend many words in dissecting notes as this is one of those fragrances I love (and encourage you) to experience as a whole. Let me only tell you it totally smells like today's Hermes. An incredibly sophisticated and an ultra-elegant composition where everything is perfectly in check as only a true master can do.

Completely genderless.

Rating: 8.5-9/10

26.9.14

Comme Des Garcons: (Not So) Wonderoud.

I'm pretty ambivalent about Wonderoud as my assessment goes in two different directions depending on how how approach it.

As a Comme Des Garcons lover, I think this brings almost nothing new to the table of woody fragrances they delivered thus far but, at the same time, if I approach it as a whatever mainstream wood-centered composition, this is vastly head-and-shoulders above the average quality available from similarly targeted / priced offerings. This is basically an average quality niche type of fragrance, sold at department-store prices.

In my perception, Wonderoud basically starts from the same bone-structure used in CDG's previous Wonderwood (and to a lesser extend Blue Santal). A combo of cedarwood, pepper, vetiver and sandalwood to which they now added a smooth but remarkable oud note. The final effect is of an intensely woody fragrance with greenish nuances. Dry but not harsh, mannered but not too affected, safe but not dull and pretty well rounded.

At the same time though, I find it a bit nondescript and not particularly distinctive. The cedarwood is not as prominent as in others deliveries by the same house and, as usual with CDG, they're still able to skip that woody harshness (typical of certain woodyambers) that seems to overpopulate department-store type of masculines. It's a well done fragrance, pleasant to wear and pretty long lasting…yet, I can't say I'm completely sold.

Downline: I think Wonderoud would make a nice option for anyone looking for a safer scent but wants to avoid smelling like a whatever department store shelf. It'd also make a nice introduction to the most daring deliveries by this house and, more in general, to western oud-themed stuff. CDG's aficionados might find it a bit redundant…

On a side note, it's pretty clear that the branch of Comme Des Garcons owned by Puig (basically all the fragrances that come in the oval-shaped flacon) are targeted to a more *generic* audience and , in this context, they still fear no rivals IMO. A bit of a disappointment though, came with the fact that Wonderoud is more expensive than your usual Puig-CDG. Is that because it includes the word *oud* in its name?

Very mild thumbs up. 

Rating: 6.5-7/10

17.9.14

Parfumerie Générale - Huitième Art - Phaedon: An Interview with Pierre Guillaume by Alfarom.



- You're one of the most prolific perfumers out there and your main line Parfumerie Générale celebrated its 10th birthday a couple of years ago. Congratulations and here's to many, many more years. How do you keep your creativity alive and vibrant?

I have the privilege of being able to dedicate myself almost exclusively to creating within the Studio PG… So it’s my daily life, my full-time job… I can go on for several months without coming up with a validated formula, and then “give birth” to one or many satisfactory ones within a few days… Creativity is a matter of inspiration, which is pretty unpredictable. Anyway, the pace at which fragrances are created has to be dissociated from the launch calendar, and at PG, since I’m my own boss, I put out what I feel like putting out when it feels timely… I propose and the public disposes!

- In my opinion, you're responsible for some of the most novel accords in modern perfumery and on top of that, you've been able to bring some popular themes such as, say,  gourmands, to a completely higher level. Do you have any personal approach or technique when composing a fragrance?

Thank you for the compliment! I’m always a bit surprised that my fragrances are stuck with that “gourmand” label… there’s ethyl maltol (a molecule that smells like sugar) in Sucre d’ébène, L’oiseau de nuit and Cèdre Sandaraque… and not a trace of it in the rest of my output. I don’t have a sweet tooth but I do love balsamic notes (benzoin, tolu, vanilla, cereals, cocoa, coffee, milk, honey…). These notes are not synonymous with sugar in perfumery but personally, they inspire me a lot and I like to use them in various registers and themes, from the Orientalized bitterness of Aomassaï (where all the balsamic notes are treated with roasted, toasted, burned, pyrogenized aspects) to Cozé (which plays on the aromatic complexity of a blond tobacco leaf and its cocoa, fig and coffee aromas).

- We often read about the photo-refining technique you use in some of your fragrances (Cozé is the first that comes to mind). Can you tell us about it?

I’ve only applied it to two of our compositions: Cozé and L’eau de Circé. This technique can be understood as a controlled, accelerated aging process: it’s used to add a patina, expression lines to the composition. The UV radiations don’t destroy the olfactory impact of certain ingredients in the formula: they soften and modify it. There’s no point in using the technique for citrus-based compositions or white floral bouquets. For Cozé, by acting on the impact of the spicy notes, it adds vibrancy, whereas in L’eau de Circé, by making the osmanthus/rose/sandalwood accord wilt a bit, it adds a certain old-fashioned, melancholy touch.

- A lot of new launches in the last couple of years, including some “exclusive” stuff such as Arabian Horse. Why the need to differentiate some of them from your “regular” range?

 These fragrances were intended as objects of contemplation, exchange and reflection with the visitors of Pitti Fragranze in Florence, a bit like certain models are only made to be displayed in car shows. I rewrote formulas I’d composed a decade ago: Cozé (which became Cozé Verde) and Cuir Venenum (which became Arabian Horse). The point was for the brand to be present, but not just from a commercial standpoint, and to take stock of my past ten years as a perfumer by retracing my steps.
Elena & Zoran from Fragrantica urged me to produce small batches of Arabian Horse and Cozé Verdé because they thought it was a pity to restrict them to being “show fragrances” and not make them available to fans of the brand… We received other requests and we decided to produce a micro-series that will be exclusively available at our online shop.

- Some prices are getting crazy when it comes to niche and too often they don’t reflect the quality of the ingredients or the artistry. It seems as though a lot of lines that pretend to be high-quality are just inflating their prices to give a false idea of luxury. What's luxury in your opinion?

While I attempt to find the right balance as far as distribution and commerce are concerned, I try to maintain what I consider to be reasonable prices for my perfumes, and though they’re not cheap, I think my brand is one of the most accessible within the genre. When I started out in 2002, I remember that some of my competitors sold their 100 ml bottles for 80 euros… today, the same products are sold by those same brands for 180 euros. Their talk about the scarcity and cost of raw materials makes me laugh. Since we are independent, we can buy our own raw materials and assemble our juices ourselves, so we can offer much higher-quality products than our competitors at a lower price. If I bought an oil that costs 200 euros per kilo for me to produce from a big company like Givaudan, IFF or Firmenich, I’d probably be paying it three or four times more… The oil would cost me 800 euros per kilo… but in no way would that reflect its true value… Just for fun, my assistant Catherine calculated the ratio between the cost per kilo of the oil and the price of the bottle… If I applied the same margins as some of our competitors, I’d have to sell a 50ml bottle of Indochine for 300 euros…
I discussed this with Françoise Caron a few months ago: in the end, the juices that cost the most to produce aren’t automatically the ones that sell the most… everyone in the industry knows it.

As far as I’m concerned, luxury is rarity… I don’t see how you can pretend to be rare and different if you’re in all the department stores… Besides, I’m afraid a lot of brands base their attractiveness solely on their price point: “If I’m more expensive than my competitors that means I’m better.” I’m not reaching out for that type of clientele. 



- Beside Cozè, what are your most widely acclaimed fragrances?

Louanges Profanes for women and L’eau guerrière for men are our best-sellers world-wide. 

- Which fragrance did you compose so far that you're particularly proud of but you think it didn't get the attention it would have actually deserved?

Papyrus de Ciane was a lot of work because I had one technical issue after another… after two years of effort I achieved my goal and presented the fragrance, which was acclaimed by professionals and critics… but it’s right at the bottom of our sales figures!

- It would be interesting to smell some of your compositions in extrait strength. Should we expect this to happen at some point?

IFRA constrains us: depending on the formula, you can only use the oil at a certain concentration, which varies according to the juice’s chemical composition. So it’s a matter of aesthetic relevance but also of technical feasibility from the regulatory standpoint. Some notes like Isparta, Ilang Ivohibé or Myrrhiad would lend themselves to this, so… to be followed.

- When it comes to your perfume-related background, what are your points of reference?

As far as perfumes go? I was struck by the best-sellers that came out when I was a child or a teenager… Acqua di Gio, Fahrenheit, Angel, A-men, Armani eau pour homme, M7 by Yves Saint Laurent…

- What's your role in Phaedon?

Buying up Phaedon gave us the opportunity of extending our offer to home fragrances. The candles are manufactured by Guilhem Rousseau, who produces part of the catalogue of Diptyque and LVMH… This has allowed us to offer a catalogue of original scents (no fig, tuberose or wood fire) while immediately achieving a high quality standard… As far as the EDT and EDP are concerned, I had already contributed juices to the first series. After buying up the company, I was able to reformulate the entire range based on my tastes and quality standards, also to invite lesser-known perfumer friends to showcase their talent through new compositions – Jean Claude Gigodot,  Danièle Maniquant and Anne Cécile Douveghan come to mind.

- What's next at Parfumerie Générale / Huitième Art / Phaedon?

There’s a big surprise in store at Parfumerie Générale in 2015 but it’s still a secret. Phaedon will add more home fragrances to its catalogue, and at HAP, in answer to our customers’ requests, we are introducing a black, matte 100ml Cyclops bottle alongside the 50ml format. A 12th fragrance will be presented at Pitti and will be available in September.

This interview was originally published on Basenotes.