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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Killing me Softly: By Kilian Rose Oud

By Tom

I've been resistant to By Kilian. It's really all my issue. I do admit that the scents are nice but the level of twee is cranked up to about 11 with the packaging with the little keys. That and Kilian Hennessy makes me feel fat. (I told you it was my issue)

Then he started moving into Oud.

Oud is I believe the new wood, or perhaps the new fruit. Previously having been the seeming provence of only the house of Montale, it seems like everyone and his brother have a new scent featuring the ingredient. Soon at a Sephora near you: Infectious by Sean John.

By Killian Pure Oud is lovely, but forgive me if I write that there are a few others out there that are doing the same thing for a little less money? Rose Oud treads a different path.

Roses are often grafted to sturdier root stock to get healthier flowers. The mix of Caron-like cabbage roses and Agarwood is so seamless as to be as if the roses grew directly from the wood, sucking up the oud and radiating it along with the delicious sweet rose, saffron and cardamom.

It isn't something I would buy for myself if only because of the price point: a shade less than $400 for 50ML is a little more that I want to put out, and I have a feeling that there are a few other less pricey, less opulently packaged scents that have treaded this part of the garden. But if this is in your budget, go for it.

Available at all places that sell By Killian. I got my sample by asking for it at ScentBar.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil: A River Runs Through It

By Donna

Most fragrance lovers and followers of perfume blogs have probably read the Chandler Burr piece about perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena's journey to Egypt in search of the elusive essence of the Nile river for a new fragrance in The New Yorker in 2005, followed up by the book The Perfect Scent, which chronicled the process of two very different fragrances for a year. Un Jardin Sur Le Nil by Hermès has been out for more than four years now, and I have tried it many times, loved it, but never bought it. Why not? I believed everyone who said it had absolutely no lasting power. I did not want to spend that much money ($125 USD for 100 ml) for a fragrance that was little more than a light cologne. This refreshing unisex scent by the great “minimalist” Ellena seemed to be nothing more than a very pricey summer spritzer. The theme intrigued me of course, because what could be more romantic than gliding along the verdant banks of the Nile River, with breezes carrying the varied scents of riparian life filling the sails of a graceful felucca?

A fortuitous sample swap recently brought me a travel size spray of this fragrance, and even though it's nowhere near summer I have been wearing it regularly, and guess what? It has decent longevity after all, and even though it is only Eau de Toilette, it lasts better than some Eaux de Parfum I have worn. I guess my skin has an affinity for this stuff, since it lasts a good six hours or even more on me, which was a nice surprise, and I will certainly be replacing the travel bottle with a big one. I think I will be running out of it sooner rather than later.

Un Jardin Sur Le Nil is a fruity-floral fragrance, but don't let that definition stop you. It is not sugary or “plasticky” or syrupy, and most of all it is not boring. It is marketed as a unisex scent, as are the other “Jardins” in the line and it fits that definition perfectly. Its spare, taut structure and highly pitched exhilaration is a welcome change from the usual run of modern fruity-florals, most of which settle into smelling pretty much the same after the first fifteen minutes. This one keeps its unique character all the way through. Its zesty tang comes from the accords of green mango and grapefruit, softened but not really sweetened by lotus blossom, a damp and erotic floral, and even more interest is added by the use of a green note in the manner of river rushes and a base of sycamore and incense. If there were more fruity-floral scents like this, the genre would garner far more respect.

With most perfumes, the wearer knows little about how it was actually composed, but I was delighted to read yet again the story of how it came to be and how such ephemeral scents as the aroma of green mango on the tree that disappears within a minute once the fruit is picked can be recreated with alternative materials by a master perfumer and artist such as Jean-Claude Ellena. For it does not smell like a flask of laboratory chemicals; it smells like the juiciest, most deliciously tangy fruit you can imagine, the kind you long for on a hot, breathless dusty day when all you want is something to cool your parched throat. Its green aspect is not the sharp grassy bite of galbanum or other materials that are normally used in “green” perfumes, but the tender murmur of the streamside rushes, with just enough of a floral quality to evoke the slightly decadent (in the literal sense of decaying plant life) feeling of the timeless Nile. (Fear not, this is not a “marine” fragrance, and the watery feeling is quite realistic.)

The good news is that now that it's been out for a few years, and even though it is still sold at full price at finer department stores and perfume boutiques, it is also available at a number of online retailers for considerably less. I took a look around and found the 50 ml and 100 ml sizes and a generously sized 200 ml body lotion starting as low as about $40, ranging up to around $70 USD, at a number of discount outlets, so it really pays to do some comparison shopping. At those prices I know just what to do when summer does arrive.

Image credit: Egyptian felucca at sunset from

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lanvin Arpège old and new: Evolution of an icon

By Donna

The house of Lanvin was once a touchstone of the glories of French fashion design with a stable of perfumes to match. From its first big hit My Sin (a.k.a: Mon Peche) to the provocatively named Rumeur and Scandal to the glorious Crescendo, the Lanvin fragrances had both the cachet of the house's fashion reputation and their own excellent qualities in their favor. Most of all they had Arpège, created by Paul Vacher and Andre Fraysse and launched in 1927, one of the most familiar names in all of perfumery. It enjoyed great popularity for decades in the hearts and boudoirs of women everywhere. It was named in honor of Jeanne Lanvin’s daughter Marguerite’s skill as a pianist, since the name means Arpeggio, the quick running of notes on a keyboard. Unfortunately, the house of Lanvin passed into the hands of several different owners after founder Jeanne Lanvin died in 1946, and is now owned by interests that have allowed all the interesting perfumes of the past to die, leaving only a reformulated Arpège (by Hubert Fraysse in1993) and a resurrected Rumeur that bears no resemblance to its original namesake. (A couple of recent releases bear the Jeanne Lanvin name and from descriptions I have read seem to be highly uncharacteristic of the brand, although I have not tried them.)

I recently compared two examples of this fragrance from different eras, both in good condition. The older version came in the sturdy square bottle common to the entire Lanvin line at one time. The other one is a clear globular bottle with a rounded plastic gold tone cap and the Lanvin mother and daughter logo on the side, a simplified design based on the classic black and gold orb Arpège bottle. I don't know exactly how recent the latter bottle is, but there are definitely major differences between what is inside each of them and the newer one is most certainly the reformulation.

What struck me about the older vintage (in Extrait) was how complex and fast-evolving it is, so it is indeed aptly named, and the contrast of its sharp herbal-bitter top notes against the deep and almost disturbing animal notes of the base. Its carnal affinity to its naughty elder sister scent My Sin is apparent, but it also has a rather severe sophistication, an almost intimidating aspect that I found fascinating. (My nose had a hard time pinning it down as far as what style of perfume it is.) It is actually a floral aldehydic scent, second in its day only to Chanel No. 5 and firmly established one of the truly great perfumes of all time. Wearing it reveals layers over time; it cannot be judged in the first few minutes or even an hour. Bergamot, aldehydes, neroli, clove and coriander create a sharp first impression which is followed by lush, “dirty” florals that include Grasse jasmine and Bulgarian rose. The base is heavy with musk, and lots of it, as well as fine quality sandalwood and strong vetiver. It is the very definition of “womanly,” but not in the seductive sex-kitten sense of so many other perfumes. The women who chooses this as her fragrance is deeply feminine but powerful too, and she will not stand for any nonsense from anyone. It must have been one of the great aspirational perfumes of its time, to be worn like battle armor; and this from a floral, not a leather/chypre outlaw scent! I first smelled this many years ago and I had nearly forgotten how distinctive it was. I did not think it was for me back then, now that I am older with a more educated nose, I can see why it was such a success.

The other little bottle holds Eau de Parfum, and it is very concentrated, very close to Extrait de Parfum in fact, but it is a softer scent, without that herbal punch at the start, and it has sweeter florals. Indeed the list of florals in the newer Arpège includes such things as mimosa and violet, and I thought I smelled a hint of vanilla in the base too. Finding that last one a little hard to believe I looked it up, and yes it's true, there is vanilla in this, which was definitely absent from the original. It is a beautiful scent, and very easy to wear, but even so it lacks the intrigue of the older perfume. I had seen this at online discount stores and wondered how different it was from the first formulation. If the re-orchestration was intended to produce a prettier scent it worked, but the ironic thing is that the original Arpège was actually more modern in its way, a fragrance for strong and complicated women. The reformulated scent also has a distinctly powdery quality that is missing in the vintage, and somewhat resembles the style of the original's contemporaries such as Le Galion's Sortilège and Chanel No. 5 more than it does the first Arpège, though it lacks the warm, golden radiance of either of those masterworks. In that sense it seems more “retro” than perhaps was the intention. Both of them last very well and would make excellent foundation scents for a grown-up fragrance wardrobe.

The real difference is that the original Arpège makes me think, and puzzles me, and confounds me, and I keep going back to it to figure out what it's doing, while the new edition is lovely in a more uncomplicated way. There is a place for both kinds of perfume of course, but I can't help feeling sad that something has been lost here. The first Arpège endured as a beloved icon for more than sixty years and I can't help but wonder why the decision was made to give it a facelift, especially in the direction of making it “easier” than it was before. Chanel would not re-frame No. 5 to make it more appealing to the masses, so why do it to an equally revered heritage perfume? Of course this is not the first time a great perfume has been changed by its new keepers, and it is nowhere near the disaster it could have been, so that is something to be thankful for. Even so, I will take the unsettling and enigmatic beauty of the old over the smooth and rather misty prettiness of the new.

Image credits: 1959 & 1967 Arpège magazine ads from and

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

How Green was my Valley Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio

By Tom

I fully admit that I am an Annick Goutal fanboy. There are several that are staples (even if the new version of one left me cold), and new ones that have quickly become favorites. Even though I wouldn't wear it, the last new release was lovely and the friend I gave it to adored it.

The ever charming and kind Lianne Tio was nice enough to hook me up with this new one, based again upon Goutal's idea of the garden, this time the Gardens of Ninfa outside of Rome. If this is at all what it smells like and I manage a Lotto win, I'm there. This opens with green, tart citrus that's quickly supplanted by grasses, a touch of lavender and wood. The effect is at first a perfect antidote to winter blahs; it's a sense memory of late spring laying in the grass enjoying the sun after a long winter, when 65 degrees seems almost sinfully self-indulgent after long months of grey.

Then the fig comes in to party.

Annick Goutal has a reputation of being somewhat staid: clean and rather buttoned-up. People overlook scents like Musc Nomade, Eau de Fier and others where Goutal lifts her skirts. The fig in Ninfeo Meo is so succulent it's almost slutty, and if you've spent any time reading my petty scribblings you know that's a high compliment indeed. Casual spritzers will only get a whisper of it; I gave myself a liberal spritzing and got the Full Monty.

Ninfeo Mio is available in Europe at Lianne Tio's shop (she sent me a review bottle) and I assume in America starting at Neimans et al when it gets here. I don't know whether it will be priced along regular lines or like Les Orientalistes. I'm hoping for the former, since in addition to having some of the best scents out there, these days the price point is a steal.

Image source, Annick Goutal.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Wandering Wonderland

Perfumer Roxana Villa has created a trial version of a green fragrance with rose at the heart titled "Smell Me". She will be giving away five samples of the fragrance as part of this blogging collective celebrating Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

GAME: To be entered to win a sample of "Smell Me" please visit each participating blog and determine which character from the story each blogger has assumed. E-mail your guess to Roxana Villa. Five winners will be chosen to receive a sample of the first edition trial of the fragrance.

Your clue (you might want to write it down): "quote the raven: 'teatime'"

Illuminated Perfume Journal

Memory & Desire

Indie Perfumes

Beth Schreibman Gehring

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Grab Bag: Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine

By Tom

This week is the Neiman Marcus Beauty Event, which means that I make my semi-annual trek to buy Kiehl's. While always telling myself that I'm not going to bother to try to get to the magic number N-M wants to to plunk down for a bag with samples, I always seem to get within $5 of the price and end up tossing a lip balm in to make the grade.

Back when Clinton was president, the N-M freebie was pretty good; with large sized pots of gook and those legendary 25ML bottles of Goutal Hadrien. Now it's chock full of samples that they should be giving out for the asking. The fragrance samples were the headache-inducing Van Cleef and Arpels Oriens and Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine.

Atelier Cologne has others at Neiman's (where it's a new exclusive line) like Bois Blonde and Oolong Infini, both very nice. Orange Sanguine was one of those openings that elicits a squeal of delight: if you walk into your local market, grab a satsuma and give it a twist you will basically have the first 15 minutes. I love that smell so it made me very happy. You might feel that it's too Tropicana literal. Even though it does add depth later with woods, geranium and jasmine I can't see popping $165 for this.

Isn't Demeter Orange Juice $20?

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Return of the White Floral Queen: Three Superlative Tuberose Perfumes

By Donna

Readers of this blog know how much I love white floral fragrances, especially when they involve high quality tuberose and gardenia creations. I thought I had no need to search out any more tuberose scents once I discovered the fabulous Carnal Flower; game over, set and match, everybody go home. After all, what else can be done with tuberose that either Carnal Flower or Fracas can't outshine? Not so fast! I have found some more of them, each very different in character, which just goes to show that it's not just the ingredients, it's the perfumer's skill that can make even the most ubiquitous and popular fragrance notes sing in a unique way. Each one of these is a masterpiece in its own right and worthy of attention.

A few months ago I bought a nice selection of niche perfume samples, among which were several By Kilian fragrances. I had never tried any of them, but the ones I selected were among the best of the line, as they were all composed by the wonderfully talented Calice Becker, and they included the superb tuberose-based Beyond Love (2007). The authors of Perfumes: The Guide had given it high marks so I was curious to find out if it really could be a serious contender in the crowded field of heavy white floral perfumes. The answer is a very definite yes. This fragrance is stunning and over-the-top sexy. No less than four different forms of tuberose are in this concoction; absolute, concrete, green tuberose and a tuberose “petal accord”, and the result is a close approximation of what the real flower smells like, intertwined with coconut and Egyptian jasmine to enhance this effect, and these all rest on a warm base of musk and ambergris. The overall effect lands it halfway between the candied luxury of Fracas and the jungly green Carnal Flower, and it's a magical place I want to visit over and over as I imagine it transforming me into some kind of irresistible sex symbol with just a little dab; it's that good. If my budget included the By Kilian line, a full bottle of this would be at the top of my list. In my opinion it is destined to become a modern classic, if there is any justice in the world. (For Marina’s take on this one, go here.)

Something else caught my attention when I read Perfumes: The Guide, and it was something I had let pass me by when it was still in production. An online search resulted in the purchase of a mini bottle of the Eau de Toilette. Michelle by Balenciaga is one of those perfumes that got discontinued despite having a loyal fan base, and it makes you wonder what Balenciaga was thinking. Michelle was introduced to honor the memory of the late founder and was named for his favorite house model. It was released in 1980, around the time all the “big” Eighties perfumes were beginning to appear, and perhaps it was bad timing that resulted in its eventual demise. For some reason I had it confused with the soapy-fresh Maja by Myrurgia for a long time, and the black packaging was somewhat similar, so I never realized what was hiding behind the rather conservative-looking box design. It is a soft and inviting version of a tuberose scent, and it is not too strong for day wear if you don't overdo it. It too has coconut, and peach as well, but what really sets it apart is the use of spicy carnation, vanilla, benzoin and sandalwood. This makes it one of the most user-friendly perfumes of the white floral style, and its delicious warmth is about as addictive as anything I have ever smelled. When I put it on, it makes me sigh with delight, and I can't leave my own arm alone for more than a few minutes. Needless to say, I will be replacing the mini bottle with a bigger one when the time comes.

The third fragrance is one I never thought I would get a chance to try, let alone own. I have always been a fan of the perfumes of Le Galion, having fallen hard for Sortilège many years ago. For a long time I thought that it and Snob were the only fragrances from that house, since I never heard about any others. Well, there were some more, though not that many, and among them were a number of well-regarded soliflores. Shortly after acquiring an old mini bottle of Jasmin, which is a first class and very indolic jasmine scent, I read about more of them on perfume historian Octavian Coifan's blog, 1000 Fragrances. He described his impressions of the house's famous signature perfumes and several of the Le Galion soliflores, including Jasmin, Lily of the Valley, La Rose and Tubéreuse (1937). Of course, I wanted to smell that last one very badly, but it would appear that most of the Le Galions were discontinued long before Sortilège finally succumbed. (That one's formula was acquired by the Irma Shorell Company and reproduced under the Long Lost Perfumes label; I have never tried it.) When a small vial of Tubéreuse in Parfum appeared on eBay one day, I could hardly believe it, and to my even greater astonishment, I was the only bidder. I tried not to get my hopes up too high, since it was a very old perfume, but when it arrived, it was still sealed and perfect, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more. It is indeed shockingly good, a heavily animalic tuberose laced with the same gorgeously filthy jasmine found in Jasmin, only more so since this was Parfum strength, and underscored with intensely rich hyacinth and dark, earthy narcissus of a quality I had not experienced since smelling pre-reformulation Narcisse Noir. It is dangerously, deeply, subversively sensual, yet possessed of a rare and refined beauty due to the use of the finest French essences; this perfume was created back when the flower field s of France still produced most of the materials used in fine perfumery and tight quality control was a way of life; it is the polar opposite of the chemical monstrosity of such so-called tuberose perfumes as Amarige. Le Galion Tubéreuse is a radiant example of what can be accomplished when the finest materials meet a gifted perfumer (in this case the great Paul Vacher). To me it combines the best aspects of Tubéreuse Criminelle and Carnal Flower yet retains its own special character. If you have ever smelled a fragrance that was so good that you can't imagine how it could be improved upon, this is such a one. If you love Tubéreuse Criminelle but would prefer not to endure the weird opening before it becomes truly beautiful, just be grateful that it exists at all, because this one is long departed.

Sources: The By Kilian fragrances are available at Luckyscent and at finer perfume shops, as well as from the By Kilian Web site.

Balenciaga Michelle occasionally surfaces at some online discounters (expect to be put on a waiting list) and specialty vintage perfume merchants and is regularly seen on eBay, both up for auction and in eBay stores to purchase with no bidding (expect to pay a premium price).

Le Galion Tubéreuse: Log on to eBay (or other online auction site of your choice) and pray fervently to the perfume goddess for a miracle.

Image credit: Actress Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) at the 2008 Emmy Awards, photographer unknown, via

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