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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coffee with a Side of Paradise: Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Eau des Iles

By Donna

Using a coffee note in perfume can be tricky; sometimes it’s gimmicky and too literal, and maybe tarted up with too much sugar and “cream” so that its real character is obscured. Many years ago there was a fragrance called Café that smelled exactly like a cup of sweetened coffee with a slightly burnt note, as though it had been left in the pot too long. It had a certain novelty appeal, but I was never tempted to purchase it. Then of course there is the popular Vanille Mokha from Comptoir Sud Pacifique, which is simple and pleasing but very sweet like most of their perfumes, and that could get tiresome after a while, and besides it's so realistic that it does not really smell very much like perfume, so wearing it could result in serious caffeine cravings all day long. Coffee has become a standard ingredient in men's scents, where it sometimes gets lost in the forests of woody-amber and cedar and other such standard issue masculine notes that usually accompany it. Then there is the mutant monster that is Thierry Mugler's Angel Men, with its bizarro world major notes of mint, coffee, caramel, lavender and tar, of all things. I cannot imagine who would wear it since it's even more discordant than the original Angel while remaining just as loud to my nose; I finally got up the nerve to try it at a department store not too long ago and I wish I had resisted.

Fortunately not all coffee fragrances are one-note wonders or avant-garde disasters. I have come to love one that was intended as a masculine, but that has not stopped me from keeping it in regular rotation. Eau des Iles by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier hits just the right balance of coffee, spices and woods so that its coffee aspect is the essence of the roasted bean itself and not a sugary beverage. It is also quite smoky, and you may even think it's excessively so unless you have ever smelled Tauer Perfumes' Lonestar Memories, beside which all other smoky perfumes hang their heads in shame. I don't find Eau des Iles to be too smoky for my taste, perhaps because I really like the aroma of very strong dark coffee beans, and I enjoy grinding my own so I can revel in the powerful fumes as they rise up. The bracing bitterness of an espresso or French roast is perfectly captured in this perfume, weaving in and out of the other notes to create an aura of dark mystery.

An intriguing feature of this perfume is that there are unexpected elements paired with the coffee, including basil, thyme, unnamed “exotic fruits” and ylang ylang, as well as both vetiver and patchouli in the base, and for once the vetiver wins, giving it a pronounced green facet and adding to its wearability. Now some people find this perfume interesting but not very wearable. Marina's take on it was that she found it to be highly original but unwearable due to the smoke. Now I am highly sensitive to smoke, so I have no idea why it's not a deal-breaker for me as well. A few weeks ago I awoke from a sound sleep in the middle of the night because I smelled something burning, and it set off my inner alarm. I got up to make sure it was not in my house, and then I thought maybe my neighbor had burned something in their fireplace, but it smelled wrong for that. I was just about to go outside to see what was happening when I heard the sirens of several fire trucks heading down a nearby road. The next day I found out there had been a house fire - more than three miles away from me! I think the smoke in Eau des Iles is so entwined with the roasted coffee and patchouli that it does not smell like the “bad” kind, the smoke from a dangerous fire that would make me recoil instinctively, but more like a hearth fire, signaling home and comfort instead of fight-or flight.

Recently there was a rumor that this house was pulling out of the U.S. market, but that was not the case, and it is widely available at both finer perfume shops (see their website to find out if one is in your city) and better online emporiums such as Luscious Cargo. I received my bottle as a gift in an online contest. It is sold as an Eau de Toilette only, and the 3.3 oz. Size has a retail price of about $120 USD, though if you poke around online you can find it for less, usually around $80. Lasting power is nothing short of legendary, especially for an EDT, so the big bottle would be an excellent investment. I have always admired the fragrances from the Jean Laporte era of both Maître Parfumeur et Gantier and L' Artisan, and before that his eponymous line that is sadly gone. The newer ones in the MPG line have thankfully been very good too. I just wish they could be had in smaller sizes, and maybe in a coffret of miniatures. The house does not have a sample program, so you would need to find a retailer that does, such as Luscious Cargo or Luckyscent. With so many quality scents in the lineup, it would be nice to be able to try them in smaller doses before committing to buy the big one.

Image credit: Coffee bushes flowering in the tropics, from the knowledge network

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sweet Tea: L'Artisan Coeur de Vetiver Sacre

By Tom

Stopping into Barneys to waste some quality time this past Sunday I was asked if I would like to try a new Vetiver by L'Artisan. This is of course akin to asking me if I would like to try a new flavor of Ketel One or Sprinkles Cupcakes. The answer will be "yes, a large please".

There are of course many vetivers classic ones, modern ones and even post-modern ones. L'Artisan's newest take on it dances between candied and cool and warm and smoky. On me it starts with a cool, sparkly fruity-berry accord, quickly becoming green vetiver. Almost immediately bergamot and black tea join in making this somewhat like a more delicate version of Annick Goutal's late and much lamented Eau de Fier. The final heat is provided by black pepper, a warm, discernible vanilla and finally a sensual skin musk. I think I might have found my fall scent...

Coeur de Vetiver is $95 for 50ML or $135 for 100ML at Barneys exclusively for the rest of the year, then at the usual suspects. I received my sample at the source.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Retro Green Florals to the Rescue for Summer

By Donna

There always comes that time in the deep trough of summer when the very idea of wearing perfume seems almost ridiculous. It’s fine when I am indoors and the air conditioning is running, but eventually it is necessary to step outside, whether to go home from work - on the bus, no less – or to water the thirsty garden. When the temperature approaches 100 degrees, I not only lose the will to live, but sometimes I even lose interest in wearing fragrance, which for me is even more alarming. Of course, part of it is just trying to avoid creating enemies at the office, but when it’s unbearably hot and sticky I just can’t seem to figure out what I want sometimes. That’s where my summer standby fragrance style comes in; the ethereal green florals. When no other perfume calls my name, I can count on one of these when the heavy hand of seasonal lag lays siege to the city.

Green scents were definitely out of fashion for a long time until niche houses and reissues of classics such as Robert Piguet’s Futur brought them back into focus recently; in fact all of the fragrances I am spotlighting are practically considered “vintage” these days even though they are only about thirty years old. The oldest is Silences by Jacomo from 1978, but I never knew of it back then. It’s the modern answer to the great Vent Vert by Pierre Balmain, opening with a veritable blast of galbanum and citrus leavened with citrus, hyacinth and other florals. Its development is somewhat more unisex and not a delicate as its predecessor’s, seeming to open with a floral burst and then become greener as it progresses instead of the other way around, but it is soothing and cool and just perfect for sinking into during a relentless heat wave. Spraying on Silences is like lying down in a darkened room with an ice pack. I do not know what silences was like when it was first released or how much it has been re-orchestrated, but I do have some vintage Vent Vert and that Queen of Green has definitely been dethroned with its most recent reworking, so in its place, Silences is an excellent choice. Find it at the discounters for less money than you ever thought possible for something this good.

From 1980 comes the elegant Ivoire de Balmain, a perfume I foolishly ignored for years for a very silly reason; it was marketed as having been formulated with blondes in mind, and suited to their skin chemistry, but I am most definitely not blonde. Much later I rediscovered it, and what a lovely thing it is. It is more floral than green, but the back beat of cool grassiness is a constant. The galbanum in the top notes is but a whisper compared to the not-so-silent rush of Silences and its green character comes more from bergamot and other less ostentatious green elements. A rather unusual blend of notes such as jasmine, raspberry, carnation, nutmeg and pepper makes for a fascinating trip through the heart notes and a woody base with good quality oakmoss, sandalwood and labdanum gives it a lasting finish. I recently acquired minis of the vintage EDT and Parfum, and now I know what I have been missing all this time. Regrettably, Ivoire has been reformulated like all the Balmains, but it has suffered less than Vent Vert in this regard and it is still very lovely. It is still available at stores that carry the Balmain line as well as online.

Another favorite green floral of this era is 1979’s Molinard de Molinard. Most people probably only know this house through Habanita these days, since all their classics of the past save that one have either been changed radically or are gone forever, replaced by a line of mostly nice but unremarkable soliflores, and its fragrances are usually very hard to find in the U.S. now except at the online discounters. A notable exception was this entry into the mainstream that saw considerable success for quite a while. It has some of the same character as Lauder’s 1972 iconic green chypre scent Aliage, as it is not very sweet despite rose and jasmine in the listed notes; it has blackcurrant bud, lily-of-the-valley, and a generous does of narcissus, heady and narcotic and refreshing all at the same time yet curiously not very “floral” in the sense that might expect. It’s hard to describe and I wish I had the right words for this aroma, the way the Japanese word “umami” has been appropriated to describe the savory quality of such flavors as meat and mushroom that is separate from salty, sweet, sour or bitter, the only terms normally used to describe how we experience the foods we eat. I always knew that not all taste sensations fell into those strict categories, and now there is finally a word for it; if only I knew how to do the same with fragrance. Anyway, this perfume has an exhilarating freshness to it that lifts my mood when I wear it and calms me at the same time, like a much-needed breeze on a warm, still summer night. I like to apply the perfumed body milk before bed when I need a little help drifting off to sleep after a hot and humid day, and it works like a charm. I think the current version is a bit woodier than the original, which had a certain damp grassiness to it, and it has always had a rather soapy aspect, but it’s not the “fresh” kind of detergent accord that is so unfortunately popular today, rather it arises from the floral and green accords. Look for Molinard de Molinard at mid-range department stores, perfume superstores such as Perfumania and online. You might also get lucky with an online auction site and score an older bottle, which is definitely worth a try. If not, you can get the newer juice for about $30 to $40 for a nice big bottle, so it’s one of the great bargains in perfumery.

There are other green florals from this era that are great for summer wear, but some, such as the best green floral of all time, Jean Patou’s Vacances and the wonderful Yendi by Capucci from 1974 are long gone, and the 1997 latecomer Gucci Envy, which I also love, is perhaps a little too loud and bright for use in very close quarters such as an office. I have been wondering why there were so many perfumes of this style in the late Seventies to early Eighties, and of course part of it was perfume houses trying to duplicate the astonishing success of Cacharel’s Anaïs Anaïs , but others were contemporaries of that milestone scent or even preceded it, so I guess it was just a cyclical trend. I hope it comes back in a big way so I can stock up on them. Had I known back then that this family of perfumes would go out of style for this long I would have bought them by the case. Do you have any favorite green floral perfumes that are currently available? I would love to hear about them! “Greens” seem to be either love or hate for many people, and for me it’s love all the way.

Image credit: Abba-inspired and very “retro” jumpsuit from online costume store

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

There is Nothing Like a Dame...Lancome Cuir Vintage and re-issue

By Tom

Perfume people are so wonderful. A while ago a kind benefactress sent me a few samples, in which were some of the vintage Lancome Cuir and of the recent (also apparently discontinued) reissue.

The reissue is a perfectly nice, ladylike little thing that came out in 2007. It's leather with a whisper of white flowers and powder. I find it oddly more elderly than the rip-roaring original. While the original Cuir isn't going to be mistaken for anything that came out last week, it's certainly far more daring than it's modern counterpart. The original is a full-figured gal in a beaded dress who just as apt to knock back a neat scotch as to knock you flat if you get out of line. Stay in line however, and...

The reissue is a buttoned-up lady in a severe suit who is apt to snap the clasp of her clutch shut and make sure you're blackballed from the club if you get out of line.

Guess which dame I want to spend time with. Or be. I can't write it better than Colombina: "Let the dead stay honorably dead rather that resuscitating them into politically correct shadows of their former striking selves."

The reissue is available on the internets at places like Amazon for less than $40, which is a great price. If you need a ladylike leather I say go for it. The vintage isn't available apparently for love nor money and that is truly sad.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Briefly- Opus Oils Vampira: Moon Garden

By Tom

Sorry, this one's going to be short. I'm helping a friend move to NYC and frankly on this Sunday night I am wiped.
Opus Oils is the Hollywood-based lair of perfumer Kedra Hart, where her winking, gothy packaging contains some really lovely scents. The latest of which is the first in a series that's a tribute to Z-list horror movie actress and TV host Vampira (see "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" for an explanation) called "Moon Garden". Seeing that it's about Vampira, and comes in a coffin-shaped flask, you might be expecting something camp. It's not. It's lovely: contemplative and almost melancholy. It's the olfactory retreat of a woman who might even be a fine actress but has to pay the bills by being a camp icon: quietly lovely jasmine and orange blossom with a touch of tarragon and clove, wormwood and a hint of civet to give it some (if you'll pardon the expression), bite.

I don't know specifically about the price of the new perfume, but others in the coffin-shaped vials are $75 for 1oz of oil and $150 for 4oz at The Opus Oil website

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Love Boat: smell bent Leisure Cruise Part Deux

By Tom

The fun (and affordable) line smell bent has added five more scents to it's über-cute Leisure Cruise line:

Tibet Your Bottom $ is an incense scent that has a delightfully frigid aspect to it. The spicy incense comes served an a base that can only be called "Sno-Cone". In the ungodly weather back East you might want this misted on you like you were a fern.

Chile Vanilla is a vanilla/patch and cinnamon bark; a well -played dance between the spicy cinnamon and the warm vanilla. There's just enough pachouli to keep the proceedings this side of foody.

Gaugin Tuan came out on me all Tiare flower and caramel. Bergamot drops in to make it less confectionary, but this one isn't me at all. If you like Tiare (I kind of don't) you'll love this.

Never Never Land is a rosy, woody amber with "arid outback" which smells to be a mix of cool vetiver and warm sage. It was easily my favorite of the bunch until I tried..

Tok 'Yo Mama, which is super-tart Yuzu and green tea (which I was told Brent brews himself) and lemony, woody hinoki. This opens bright with peel and becomes a bit boozy, with surprising lasting power. If you would want a misting system of "Tibet" you'll want "Tok 'Yo Mama" by the pitcher with crushed ice.

As usual with this line, they're a lot better than the price point and packaging would lead you to believe. Another perfumer might have come up with the very cute graphics, "wink-wink" names and delivered half-hearted juice, most likely at twice the price. Thanks be that Brent Leonesio isn't just another perfumer..

Available at the smell bent website, $45 for 50ML in spray, $20 for 8ML perfume oil. A generously sized sample set of all 5 is $25 I received my sample sprays from smell bent.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bas de Soie sample draw winner

is Claudia0219. Please email us your address using the contact link on the right.