One Thousand Scents

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wood You: Lancôme Miracle Homme

I was so, so tempted last weekend at a department store.

This is a limited-edition bottle for L'Homme by Yves Saint Laurent, designed by architect Jean Nouvel. The base for the bottle is the hexagonal-bolt cap for the original L'Homme bottle, and the flaçon, while it may be snickeringly phallic to some, is sleek and minimal (it's more test tube than phallus, and so resembles the bottle for Catalyst for Men by Halston).

There are a couple of nice features, one you can see in the picture and one you can't. That tiny green blob near the top of the bottle is the YSL logo encased in a curvy little capsule; it's inside the bottle, and it floats and bobs around in the juice. I like! The thing you can't see, which I like even more, is that the sprayer tube is made of a plastic with the same refractive index as alcohol, so it's literally invisible: there just doesn't seem to be a tube inside the bottle at all. When I noticed this, I was just dumbfounded. (You can read a little more about this new technology at Cosmetic/Personal Care Packaging Magazine's website.

I wanted that bottle. So cool! It would be like have a little sculptural executive toy on your dresser. But the problem is that I just don't like L'Homme any more now than I did when it was first released. It's thoroughly nondescript. I tried re-smelling it a couple of times, just to see if I could justify owning the bottle, but no. It's boring; not quite a blot on the company name, but still a waste of space. I was so disappointed that I ordered a bunch of stuff from Imagination Perfumery instead, due to arrive on Tuesday or so. I'll let you know how that works out.


Last week, the New York Times published this article about fragrance blogging, and I was a little shocked by two things. First, this:

“No question, the industry people are unnerved,” said Rochelle R. Bloom, the president of the Fragrance Foundation, a trade group. “I often get calls from executives pleading, ‘Can’t you do something about all this chatter.’ ”

They don't want us to chatter! They don't want us talking about their product in anything but the most glowing terms. Well, fuck that. Any reviewer or critic worthy of the name is going to write what they think.

Second, this, about fragrance writer Tania Sanchez (the wife of Luca Turin: they have a new book out, which I've ordered and will no doubt be obsessively discussing and quoting from in the near future):

She told of a prominent blogger threatened with a lawsuit by a perfume company because she had deemed its product only “O.K.,” and “a little disappointing.”

A company threatened to sue someone who wrote a less than flattering review?

Well, let's see if I can get in some kind of trouble.

Dear mass-market fragrance company:

Nearly everything you've released in the last twenty years has been horrible; for women, a boring, uniform fruity floral that's just like all the other fruity florals that all the other mass-market fragrance companies have been vending (not everything has to have pink pepper and lychee in it), and for men, a boring fresh aquatic/ozonic scent which likewise. You're insulting your customers with your relentless sameness. A little originality would be nice.


Dear high-end fragrance and design house:

The quality of your product, while generally high, has been in a decline for some time now, and it doesn't help that you've almost certainly been releasing between six and twenty new scents a year, which is more than the market can absorb. At least half your recent releases have been mediocre at best. Reformulating the established and classic scents isn't improving them, and your efforts to capture the youth market is dragging you down to a level you should be ashamed to occupy.


Dear niche perfumer:

"Natural" is not necessarily better than synthetic, and perfume, however nice (and it often is), is still just perfume and not a cure for cancer, no matter how insanely high-flown your descriptions of it, nor how much you charge.



It must be nice to be able to write about all the newest scents that come down the pike. Me, I don't really have the opportunity: most new scents never make it to my town, and I just can't afford to order samples of everything (I already spend way too much on this obsession of mine), so I'm limited to reviewing whatever happens to gravitate into my orbit. Luckily, that's still plenty. And why would I want to talk about only the newest things? A lot of the new stuff isn't much good, and there are a great many older scents that are classics, or at least very good.

Lancôme's Miracle Homme was released in 2001, a year after the (dreadful) women's version, and while it's nothing earth-shaking, certainly not miraculous, it's a nice, unobjectionable sort of men's scent, and there's nothing wrong with that.

After a wet, crisp opening that smells of red pepper (and a carroty note, to my nose) and, supposedly, maple leaves (not a huge impact there, and no maple-syrup note), the scent settles down into what can only be described as "wood coffee" (which, as it happens, is the name of a Comme des Garçons scent that I've never tried). There's a bitter coffee overtone and a dry handful of cedar, but neither of these is as intense as I would have liked; I guess I thought the scent would have been improved by the punch of, say, the cedar in Yves Rocher's Nature Millenaire. (Mugler's A*Men has both notes, and the coffee is stronger, but that scent is as sweet as Miracle Homme is dry. Mugler is actually coming out with what sounds like an all-coffee version of A*Men that I am going to have to try, because while I don't drink coffee, I love the smell of it.) Miracle Homme's slow drydown is more wood, gaiac and rosewood, supplemented with vetiver.

The bottle, it must be said, is a very nice piece of work, a chunk of glass that gives the impression of rectangular solidity but which is actually comprised entirely of curves and odd angles; the only flat surface is the bottom. The cap is slightly tapered and of gunmetal chrome, the box is dark coffee brown (a hint at the contents), and the overall presentation is appealingly masculine. I just wish the contents were wonderful instead of pretty good.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mister Clean: Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche

Earlier this week I wore Coup de Fouet to work; it's a great workplace scent, because it hangs on pretty close to the body and doesn't advertise. A couple of hours in, I was working on some piece or other and must have moved my hand just so, because I caught a whiff of the scent, and spontaneously thought, "I smell really fucking good!"

And that, to me, is about ninety-five per cent of the point of wearing a scent. (The other five per cent is so that other people will think you smell really fucking good, but that's not an important consideration in my universe: I just don't want them to think I smell bad, either, so I usually wear understated fragrances when I'm out and about. Other people, I know, might reverse my ratios; some of them are the reason that there are signs up at my gym advertising their no-scent policy.)

I buy fragrances that I know will smell good. When I'm sampling new things, there's always the chance that I won't, of course, which is why I sample them. Last Sunday I got a chance to smell the new Chanel for men, Allure Homme Edition Blanche; it had smelled okay in the store, but that's never a good environment to truly experience a scent, because you're surrounded by distractions like salespeople and the pressure to buy and also about a hundred other scents. I managed to snag a sample--never much of a bet these days--and wore it on Monday, and whenever I happened to notice that I was wearing the scent, my reaction was, approximately, "Yargh."

I hate it when people say that a particular scent smells exactly like bug spray or suntan lotion or whatnot, because it seems to indicate a certain lack of discrimination, but unfortunately, Edition Blanche smells to me pretty much exactly like powdered cleanser. I guess this makes me one of those undiscriminating people.

Edition Blanche opens with lemon and ginger, and this ginger has the same detersive quality that gradually led me to hate Bulgari Blu Homme. The combination of the two notes smells like a cleaning product, and while I usually bemoan the fugitive quality of citrus notes, this lemon sticks around and sticks around, and the scrub-brush quality of the scent drowns out everything else in it.

Maybe three hours later, the scouring powder has died away and what's left is a soft woody-powdery accord. That's much too late, of course.

A lot of people seem to like Edition Blanche, and good for them. Obviously they can smell something in it that I can't.

While I was at the counter, I also got a sample of Allure Homme Sport Cologne Sport, a flanker of a flanker (in this case, of Allure Homme Sport, which I don't think I ever tried, or if I did, I don't remember it). The overnamed AHSCS smells exactly and indistinguishably like any of those other fresh men's scents we've been plagued with over the last ten or fifteen years, and could be attractive only to someone who's never smelled any of the others, or who is a blindly bandwagoning devotee of Chanel.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Live By The Sword: Caron Yatagan

When you have been wearing fragrances for a long time, and trying pretty much anything that gets waved under your nose, you start to see similarities between many of them, particularly since the sense of smell is rather mysterious and lacking a language into the bargain, so we almost always describe scents in terms of other ones. You might say that a fragrance smells like another with roses added or spices removed, or that it smells like a blend of two other scents you know, or that it's a sort of jigsaw-puzzle jumble of many other scents.

The first time I smelled Caron's Yatagan, the very first thought that popped into my head was, "I've never smelled this before, but I know it anyway." Immediately afterwards, I thought, "And it's dirty!" Dirty in the best possible way: exciting, sexy, a little shameful, and abrim with possibilities.

Yatagan--it takes its name from this curved Turkish sabre--calls to mind the carnality of Tabu, the uncompromising tough-guy stance of Krizia Uomo, the herbal bitterness of Bel Ami and Coriolan, the piney outdoorsiness of Winter Delice, and easily a half-dozen other scents. But it's still its own beast.

Caron's own website calls it an oriental chypre, and although I can see the point--the base is laden with patchouli and a little oakmoss--it doesn't read like a chypre to me. If they hadn't told me, I never would have thought of it in those terms. It seems to me more like a roughhousing, thoroughly masculine oriental scent.

The opening is a bright, sharp bolt of herbs and leaves, underscored by the first signs of that wonderful filthiness--castoreum and patchouli. Patchouli is not usually my friend: I prefer the new, chemically cleaned-up version to the old-school hippie patchouli, which generally smells dirty (the bad kind of dirty--unwashed and nauseating) on me. Yatagan is suffused with this old patchouli, and yet alchemically it works, which surprises and delights me. As I noted when talking about Michael for Men and Chanel Antaeus, sometimes the fusion of leather and patchouli seems to take the curse off it.

The middle of the scent is wonderfully bitter, swirling with artemesia, wormwood, and still more herbs. (This is not something, I think, that you would want to wear just before heading out to the office, or to a civilized dinner.)

What's most amazing about Yatagan is how gentle it becomes in the drydown, about two hours later. The edges have been smoothed away with balsamic labdanum and styrax; it relaxes. All the aggressiveness just dies away: the fighting is over, and what remains is gentle and masculine, a leather pillow stuffed with aged patchouli and wood shavings.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Heart of Darkness: Andy Tauer Incense Rosé

On Monday I got a sample of Andy Tauer's new scent, Incense Rosé, in the mail. All the way from Switzerland! From Herr Tauer himself! (I won a contest on his website.)

Trying to describe my first impressions of it to Jim, I called it "interesting", which is when he said, "Oh, interesting. Like when an ugly person has a nice personality." A pretty good point, but not quite fair, because Incense Rosé isn't ugly, to say the least. It just isn't exactly beautiful, either, and that is in no way a criticism.

After a startling blast of clementine, the titular rose comes sidling up, but it is accompanied by dark notes: it isn't a fresh red rose, but more like dried rose petals in a wooden box, or something more mysterious still. There is a veil over everything, a sort of crepuscular darkness: the bright clementine and the rose persist through the middle of the scent, but they're overlaid by smoke and wood and darker things, castoreum and patchouli and myrrh. There's nothing of churchy incense in it the way there is in some incense scents (such as Etro's Messe de Minuit, which is meant to evoke a Gothic cathedral); it's a very outdoorsy sort of incense, as if you were holding a ceremony in the middle of a cedar grove at twilight. (To my nose, there is a lot of gorgeous cedar; alongside the frankincense, it dominates the middle of the scent.)

I like it enough that I wish it were more me. I've enjoyed wearing Incense Rosé for the last week, but I think the problem is that incense scents just don't demand my adoration the way, say, chypres do. I've never focused on really incense-heavy scents: they've just never grabbed me by the throat. I did love Gap Om (now long out of production), and I own Winter Delice, Nu, Body Kouros, and a few other what you might call incense fragrances, all of which I liked well enough, but none of them would make my top-ten list, if I could actually narrow down my favourites that tightly. I've tried Passage d'Enfer by L'Artisan Parfumeur, Donna Karan Chaos, and Messe de Minuit, but I don't know them well (and didn't madly love any of them anyway). There's a whole set of five Comme des Garçons incenses that people rave about, and though with one exception I haven't had much success with CdG in the past, these sound like the sort of thing I have to at least sample.

After wearing Incense Rosé for a few days, I know it isn't something I'd own, but I clearly have to try more of Tauer's scents: this one is so gorgeously constructed that I'd love to know what else he has up his sleeve. The leather-based Lonestar Memories sounds like something that is me, and I bet the lavendery Rêverie au Jardin is nice. Clearly I'm going to have to order a bunch of samples from The Perfumed Court, a website which offers hand-made samples of countless fragrances for those who want to try before they commit themselves to a whole bottle of something. I've avoided ordering from them because that way lies madness (there are easily a hundred things I want to try), but it's time to take the plunge, I guess.