One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Final Frontier

Your life won't be complete if I don't tell you about these:

Star Trek-themed fragrances.

Yes, they're real. And only forty-three years after the show debuted!

One of them is for ladies. Can you guess which one it is? It's Pon Farr, the one that's named after a Vulcan hormonal cycle that causes sufferers to become murderously violent unless they have sex. Nice!

The men's scents are named Tiberius, after the star of the original series, a man who basically screwed anything in a (mini)skirt, and Red Shirt, an in-joke name for the person who's sure to die when a team leaves the ship.

I can't help thinking that these could have used a little more development time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Big Spender: Ormonde Jayne Zizan

Unlike Isfarkand, Zizan, Ormonde Jayne's most recent men's scent, is big and boisterous, all you would expect a men's scent to be. Comparing the two, I can see how Isfarkand would appeal to anyone who wanted something masculine yet quiet: Zizan is more obvious, with a lot more personality--the party animal to Isfarkand's wallflower.

A sparky static-electricity zap of lemon pepper with a slightly sugary feel to it--candied lemon zest rather than fresh lemon--opens the show, quickly supplemented by an herbal-fougere note: the whole thing feels at first like a twist on Eau Sauvage (a good scent to imitate if you have to imitate something), but rapidly veers off in another direction, another mainstay of men's perfumery, when a big dollop of jasmine-laced vetiver makes an appearance. It is all very bright and clear until the woody-amber drydown, and it takes up a lot of space, in a good way.

But in the end, I am not sure that Zizan is especially distinctive. I suspect that if you smelled it blind, not knowing it was from a niche British perfumer and not seeing the packaging (which is lovely) or knowing the story, you would not think it was particularly wonderful: there's nothing in it to really make it stand out from the crowd of men's citrus and fougere scents. Maybe a better nose than mine could find something genuinely new and different about it. I like it, but I don't think it's sufficiently better than any well-made department-store scent to be worth over $100. For that kind of money, I want amazing.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Six of One: Ormonde Jayne Isfarkand

The dismaying thing about Ormonde Jayne's Isfarkand (once called Isfahan, no relation to Yves Rocher's long-gone Ispahan, both named after a city in Iran) is how tiny it is.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that a with a name like Isfarkand, you'd be getting an oriental scent, or at least something with a nod towards orientalia, something sweet or incensey or spicy-warm? What you get is a delicious big blast of pepper and lime, and then a quick diminuendo into a little construction of cedar and vetiver. It's like a miniature log cabin made with matchsticks.

The scent isn't transparent or subtle or close to the skin, or even watery-weak: it's just tiny. I don't understand it. I am in the habit of applying one or two spritzes of something, because I don't want to overwhelm anyone--in fact, I don't really want anyone to quite register that I am wearing a scent. Two spritzes of Isfarkand didn't even register with me. I had to put on six before I was even convinced past the first few minutes that I was wearing a scent. It's as if I had to use a magnifying glass to perceive it. (And the website says that it has 25% perfume oils, which makes its miniature quality even more baffling.)

Isfarkand an appealing scent, to be sure: nothing ground-breaking, but pleasantly masculine. But if you want something with some presence, either find something else or be prepared to really douse yourself.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Nice Try: Odin 03 Century

As I will have to keep saying until the IFRA comes to their senses, a chypre is not a chypre without oakmoss, and calling something a chypre doesn't make it one. Odin 03 Century is supposedly either a chypre or "a modern interpretation of the chypre family" (which usually just means it has patchouli in it, as nearly everything does these days), and the list of notes even has oakmoss in it, but I doubt that very much, and even if it does, there isn't much of it, and it still isn't a chypre: it's a woody oriental.

The opening has an herbal quality that is reminiscent of Old Spice, but sweetened and gentled, less obviously old-school masculine. After that, it is mostly wood and sugared myrrh. It has a vaporous warmth that is oddly but wonderfully suggestive of a dry-cleaner's, and a glowing ambery sweetness which is restrained enough to keep the scent from becoming one of those cloying keep-it-away-from-me scents. There is a bit of roughhousing patchouli in the base, but mostly it's just that sweet amber (which it has in common with Paco Rabanne Ultraviolet Man without smelling quite so robotic). Very late into the drydown, a deep spiciness mysteriously appears; perhaps it was there all along, just drowned out by the amber. And this is one of those oriental scents that lasts a wonderfully long time: eighteen hours in, no projection, but you can still smell it as a subtle glowing warmth.

Overall, it's not the most novel thing you've ever smelled, but it is very beautiful and thoroughly unisex. Of the line, it's my favourite, the one that comes closest to being worth the price.

If only it were a chypre....

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Nice Guy: Odin 02 Owari

There is not really a lot to be said about Owari, the second in the line of three Odin scents. It starts out with an extraordinarily cheery burst of citrus--mostly orange, to my nose, with some grapefruit--and soon turns in to an equally cheery wood scent, sweet but not overly so, a bit peppery, but with most of the corners rounded off. (That sweetness means it almost reads as a gourmand scent, if you were a termite.) It lasts longer than you'd expect, given that slam-bang start, with the usual warm wood-amber haze at the end; the only thing missing is vanilla or its increasingly popular stand-in, tonka bean. It really is very nice; I don't know that it's worth the price (currently $110 for 100 mL), because it's not that different from a number of other things on the market, including a number of things you could get at most any drugstore (despite the exotic-sounding list of ingredients), but it's perfectly pleasant and unexceptionable, and if someone handed me a bottle, I'd wear it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Questionable: Odin 01 Nomad

A clothing concern in New York called Odin has released (well, six months ago, but that's how long it takes me to catch up with these things) three scents, unisex but skewing masculine. They're numbered for your convenience: 01 is called Nomad, 02 is Owari (a Japanese word meaning "The End"), and 03 is Century (for some reason). They all sound interesting to me, and Century is supposedly a chypre, which always piques my interest, but I'm taking them in order.

From Basenotes, the list of notes:

Top Notes: Juniper Berries, Himalayan Cedar Leaves, Bergamot. Middle Notes: Palmarosa, Spicy Black Pepper, Heliotrope. Base Notes: Tonka Bean, West Indian Sandalwood, Grey Musk.

(Palmarosa is an oil from a relative of the geranium with a rosy overtone.)

From Now Smell This, the company's advertising fluff:

“Under the spice trade routes comes an exotic wealth of rare scents. Orient attracts rich notes of juniper berries and cedar leaves from the high regions of the Himalayan Mountains with mysterious Palmarosa and spicy black pepper. Lingering in the air is the warmth of tonka beans blended with the sultry seduction of sandalwoods from the West Indian shores.”

Knowing these things, then, and looking at those blocky, forceful bottles full of enigmatic brown-gold juice, what do you envision? A rough-and-tumble masculine scent with a peppery core and a monumental sandalwood base?

You know that this is a trick question, because even though these are the things I thought of before I tried Nomad, here is what I got:

Coconut. I don't care what the list of notes, or anything or anyone else, says; it smells of coconut. The top is a bright little jingle-jangle of citrus and greenery with a bit of not-too-harsh spice which segues into a warm gourmand-oriental heart with coconut in it: the theoretically floral heart (palmarosa and heliotrope) reads as a soft vanilla pastry-cream confection with maybe, maybe a hint of rose. The base: more vanilla (that tonka bean) and some creamy, blurry wood. It is very pleasant, but overall it doesn't make me think of nomads, or the orient; it makes me think of a patisserie. They could have poured this concoction into any number of bottles with any number of names and you wouldn't bat an eye; it could be a celebrity scent aimed at teenage girls or the newest Comptoir Sud Pacifique island fragrance or a flanker from Ungaro.

Does that tactic work? Telling people what something is by the look and the name and the description of it, and then putting something completely different in the bottle? Do people buy with their eyes and not their noses? If Yves Saint Laurent had spent all that time and money establishing Opium as the absolute quintessence of orientalia, and then put a pretty floral inside the Japanese inro bottle, would anybody have bought it back in the 1970s? Would they buy it today? And isn't that what Odin has done with Nomad, really?

I am sorry for all these questions. This is not a test. But I am so baffled by the disconnect between what the scent purports to be and what it actually is.