Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review - "Thé Vert & Bigarade" by L'Occitane en Provence

After a long, hot and difficult day at work today I found myself heading home from the city and being pulled in by the specific gravity that L'Occitane stores seem to exert. The plan was to just pick up a bar of my favourite Verbena scented Extra Gentle Soap (summer in a bar of soap, quite simply) and then exit.

Oh well, when the spirits need a little boost why not treat oneself to a new fragrance? Something summery and uplifting was on the cards. It's been an unseasonably hot Spring in Sydney, and we have had devastating bushfires and a pall of smoke that has drifted over the city from areas around Sydney. I could use a boost, and so after 2 sniffs on a fragrance card I grabbed a bottle (and my soap) and made my purchase. I didn't even try it on skin, because that's the kind of reckless badass I am. Ahem.

I haven't done all that well with the search for a new signature summer scent yet, such as the misstep with Amazingreen, but I had a good feeling about this. At $80 for a 75ml edt it wasn't super cheap, but not a bank breaker either. Caution was thrown to the wind in favour of some retail therapy.

Thé Vert & Bigarade by L'Occitane en Provence (2013)
Eau de Toilette, 75ml.
Top notes: Orange, Bitter Orange
Heart notes: Green Tea, Yerba Mate
Base notes: Cedar
Nose: L'Occitane creator Olivier Baussan and perfumer Karine Dubreuil.
Perfect for both women and men, the spirit of the lively Thé Vert & Bigarade Eua de Toilette is as refreshing as a cool break on a warm summer day.

A classic fragrance, this Eau de Toilette includes green tea extract from Japan and the essential oil of bitter orange from the Mediterranean. Energising upon first contact, the fragrance evolves with sparkling citrus notes in an accord of sweet and bitter orange, with an aromatic base includes notes [see above].
 [Notes and description by L'Occitane en Provence]

5 Minutes
The first spritz of Thé Vert & Bigarade (trans: Green Tea & Bitter Orange) opens with a lovely blast of a white floral orange blossom and the by now quite familiar "green tea" accord. Within a few minutes however the heady powdery blossom subsides a bit and a juicy orange fruit note becomes more noticeable. The blend of orange, green tea and blossom is light and fresh, quite feminine for a 'unisex' fragrance, and quite delicious.

30 Minutes
At 30 minutes my reaction to this is Oh, yum. The powdery floral notes have started to retreat, taking some of the feminine edge off the fragrance. What is left is a juicy, cool combination of orange fruit and peel, green tea and grassy green and hay notes (possibly from the yerba mate?). At 30 minutes the projection and sillage are quite good. I've had to make peace with the fact that light and fresh, and being a sillage beast, are not common bedfellows. Well, actually I still fight it, because even in a summer fragrance I want a little value for money you know? So far this fragrance seems to be holding up very well.

2 Hours
At the 2 hour mark Thé Vert & Bigarade has become a little less grassy green and more of a study in a cool green citrus with a soft woody note. The green tea is still noticeable but more like a soft element of the slightly bitter citrus. (It has a feel that reminds me a little of some elements of Terre de Hermès, the woody citrus elements that is, yet without the flinty mineral notes that give Terre de Hermès its edge. Also, there is no cluttered sense to this fragrance which also reminds me of the signature spare style Jean Claude Elena uses at Hermès.) There is nothing harsh here, but a well rounded fresh scent with a decent amount of loft. Projection and sillage are still pretty good and in no way disappointing.

This is a well crafted, refreshing and uplifting fragrance that leans a little to the feminine side for a unisex. I actually have no problem with that, my yin sits pretty comfortably beside my yang, but I can see it being more popular with women than most blokes honestly. Actually, this would be a really nice fragrance for someone quite young and a good option away from those sugary sweet confections that are aimed at young women and girls. It's interesting without being especially edgy, but fun and fresh. I like it. This will definitely get some wears this Summer.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review - "Amazingreen" by Comme des Garçons

Ugh, I actually wrote this entire post a couple of days ago and then managed to delete it by accident. Gone for good! So here we go, round two.

I had a birthday last week, and these days birthdays and Christmas in my family usually revolve around a collection of "what do you want?" emails and texts. The remaining members of my family live part way across the country, and when you don't get to see each other that often (and have to consider what you can and can't post) it's really hard to know what to get each other.

As I mentioned back in January I'm never happier than with a fist full of gift cards, so this birthday I elected again to get some Myer department store gift cards so I could use them in the Mecca Cosmetica concession. So with a pair of gift cards still steaming fresh from the post I raced into the shop after work on my birthday determined to buy something.

And, well, there in part lies a problem in our cautionary tale because I made a rash decision, and this time it was no home run but rather a strike out.

Photo via Comme des Garçons Parfums

Amazingreen by Comme des Garçons (2012)
Eau de Parfum, 50ml.
Top Notes: Palm tree leaves, Green pepper, Hazelnut.
Heart Notes: Ivy leaves, Orris roots, Coriander seeds, Silex.
Base Notes: Gunpowder accord, Vetiver, Smoke, White Musk.
Nose: Jean-Christophe Herault.
A dazzling fusion of organic and mineral, of freshness and depth.
An astounding blast of green energy, the creation of the ultimate green fragrance, Amazingreen.
[Notes and hyperbole description by Comme des Garçons.]

5 Minutes
I really like the opening of this fragrance. The theme here unsurprisingly is green. This is no classic fougère though, instead this heads to the deepest, darkest part of the forest. Where moss and lichen grow on damp rock, and mysterious things dwell.

On the initial spray there is a big slug of moist, dark leaf notes and something quite sweet, floral and almost like watermelon rind. Blink a few times and this is already largely gone, and in its place a different kind of green feeling starts to emerge, the almost dusty vegetal green of coriander and capsicum. And, it has to be said, a faint something akin (to my nose anyway) to the the smell of hairspray, perhaps from the orris/gunpowder/smoke combination?

30 Minutes
It was at about the 30 minute mark the other day when I was getting on the train to head home, with my purchases in hand, that I kept smelling my wrist and began to experience buyer's doubt (step one towards buyer's remorse, yet before buyer's denial and buyer's bargaining).

30 minutes in and the green leaf notes have fled the scene. Not just ambled off but hailed a cab and told him to step on it. Actually a lot of things have departed, like the vast bulk of the fragrance. What is left is a faint vegetal green, with a smokey edge. Perhaps a bit of nuttiness. Really I'm grasping at straws here because it's all a bit faint and lot meh.

2 Hours
Well, the bottle is lovely. And I only bought the small size, so there is that.

This is pretty is pretty much a dud. The bottle is gorgeous, like a pebble in the hand and the deep metallic green of a beetle's carapace. Sadly the bottle isn't enough and this fragrance has made me revise my Comme des Garçons-can-do-no-wrongs world view.

Just in case you think this entire experience was one of birthday woe, I did also add a few bucks to the gift cards haul and bought myself a beautiful skin serum from my beloved REN Skincare. I may not have come out of my birthday smelling marvellous after all, but at least me skin will be dewy fresh for the year to come.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review - "Sel de Vetiver" by The Different Company

It's been quite a mild winter here in Sydney this year, which given how mild Sydney winters are anyway is a round about way of saying that it could be mistaken for spring much of the time. We've had some cool rainy days sure, days where I couldn't wait to bust out the heavier scents. On a dark gloomy day I love to wrap myself in some of the churchier incense or warming amber fragrances I own. Something angular, dark and rich. But every chance I get I also like to lighten things up and bring the sunshine in.

Note, I'm not a huge fan of winter.

I'm not particularly a sufferer of SAD, and conversely I'm also not a bronzed sun worshipper either (hello, Scottish/English by birth which means I am the palest person you know). But the sun comes out and like a flower I open to face the sun and everything is bluebirds, daisies and happiness. Spring and Autumn are my favourite times in Sydney, because we get treated to beautiful mild days without a cloud in the sky. Case in point, here is what yesterday looked like as I walking across the Domain to meet a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW:

And this is still winter. As the 'official' spring is just around the corner, I decided to add some more lightness to my collection because you can never have too much happy.

A while back I ordered a sample vial of "Sel de Vetiver" by The Different Company from LuckyScent after having read about it online. As an aside, how great is this sampling that some of the online retailers offer? I wish more of the local online retailers offered such a service, but I do appreciate it must be labour intensive and fiddly to be decanting all those tiny vials all the time. I love the fact that for a small investment I can try a whole bunch of different fragrances at home, get a couple of wears out of them, and then decide if I want to go ahead and invest.

Anyhoo, "Sel de Vetiver" was a highlight in a bunch of samples I bought, and then I was very happy to spot The Different Company brand in stock at Peony Haute Perfumery in Melbourne when I visited back in June. Fast forward, and Jill at Peony emailed me recently to let me know that she was discontinuing The Different Company as a brand (as I understand it, more to do with distribution and supply issues than any reflection on the brand) and she was offering a good discount on "Sel de Vetiver"! (As of writing Jill still has quite a bit of the brand on offer at great discounts, but act quick because once it's gone it's gone. And currently I'm not aware of anyone else offering the brand in Oz.)

I love the effort Jill at Peony puts into her presentation, wrapping the box in her signature tissue.
Firstly this was almost a very short review because I could not get the damned cap off the bottle. The stepped ziggurat style of cap is all well and good, but it means there is precious little to grab onto. It was jammed on good and tight, and there is a plastic lining inside the metal cap that forms a very tight seal against the sprayer. In the end I had to resort to wedging a knife in the crack between the bottle and stopper and levering it off. (Actually I started with a pair of tweezers, but that's not a very butch admission, non?)

Sel de Vetiver by The Different Company (2006)
Eau de Parfum
Top Notes: Cardamom, Bergamot, Grapefruit.
Middle Notes: Vetiver, Geranium, Ylang.
Base Notes: Sea Salt, Haïti Vetiver, Iris.
Nose: Céline Ellena
A spectacular encounter between Vetiver and Sea Salt.

The spicy and invigorating freshness of Cardamom and Grapefruit.
The beauty of Haitian and Bourbon Vetiver: fresh, piquant, woody and smoky.
The fascinating originality of a Sea Salt accord: solar and mesmerising.
[Notes and description by The Different Company.]

5 Minutes
The first impression on first spray is a lovely waft of light citrus and geranium notes over a warmer herbal base. Within a minute or two though the grapefruit has largely departed, and you are already deep in the Land of Vetiver. I own a bottle of gorgeous vetiver essential oil, and I keep it as a sort of olfactory reference for vetiver. (I mixed a dilution in perfumer's alcohol, and sometimes even wear this on its own.) Natural vetiver can be incredibly complex, an earthy mix of green, herbal notes on a dry base that brings to mind hemp rope and dry sunbleached wood. The effect here is achieved with a variety of aroma molecules, but it is a brilliant evocation of natural vetiver.

At the 5 minute point this is very similar to that natural vetiver, but supported and given loft with the remnants of the bergamot and citrus, the subtle flower notes, the herbal spice of cardamom, and the genius of the salty marine note. There is a spare, sun filled quality to this fragrance that makes me think of standing on a promontory overlooking the sea, with the smell of the surrounding grasses and salt air on the breeze.

30 Minutes
At 30 minutes the majority of the headier citrus and floral notes have largely, but not entirely, departed and what you are left with is very much akin to a reference vetiver tied in with a salty, ozonic marine accord. What also becomes more evident is the lovely soft iris/woody/tobacco note that comes from the ionone in the composition, and the slightly sweet/floral note from several ingredients such as benzyl cinnamate. Sillage and projection are moderate I would say, which I don't mind too much in a summery scent, but up close this is stunning.

2 Hours
At the 2 hour point to my nose there is a warmer, woodier and slightly balsamic nature to the fragrance. The main effect though is still a seaside vetiver. Sillage and projection are fair, and at this point it is more of a closer skin scent but I would not label the longevity as disappointing.

I would describe "Sel de Vetiver" as quite unisex, but it makes a great masculine. There is enough of a light floral, sweetly balsamic edge to take it out of the realm of all woods and herbs that you'd normally associate with textbook masculine fragrances. The genius for me though is that salty marine accord that just flings open the doors on a seaside summer breeze. Couple that with the soft citrus and flowers, the killer invocation of vetiver, and "Sel de Vetiver" smells like summer.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Recently a friend of mine asked me to take him fragrance shopping. After we met in the city on Saturday I quizzed him a bit about what he was looking for, or what he has worn in the past, and it became clear straight away that he wanted to try something less run of the mill. So we started off in one of my favourite fragrances destinations in Sydney, the large Mecca Cosmetica concession in the Myer department store, which stocks a range of interesting brands that are otherwise very hard to find here in Oz.

Fortunately one of my favourite staff, Prue (who I mentioned in this post back in January) was working, and she helped us out. I thought Chris might really like some of the Comme de Garçons line after he mentioned that he quite liked woody fragrances and was keen to try something a little bit more edgy. After some fun blind sampling it turned out that Chris's pick was the original Comme de Garçons EDP.

Atta boy! So. Proud.

We tried a bunch of other fragrances, and in the David Jones department store Chris took quite a liking to both Arabian Wood and Sahara Noir by Tom Ford. However he kept coming back to the Comme de Garçons and how it was emerging on his wrist.

I joked about it when he had first asked for my help, referring to him as my fragrance Padawan, but in truth I was really pleased and a tiny bit touched to be asked. What became clear over the few hours that we visited a bunch of stores and tried different things was how much fun he was having. Sailing past the mass market fragrance counters, he got a taste of some of the works of art that are out there.

Thinking about it afterwards it struck me just how great it is to share the joy of fragrance with people. It's not dissimilar to writing this blog, or reading others and watching youtube review clips (as I sometimes do). Ultimately it's all about sharing ideas, and hopefully introducing each other to a little bit of joy under a stopper.

And I am more than happy with that.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review - "Mabon" by Fleurage Perfume Atelier

For Wiccans the Sabbat of "Mabon" is the pagan equivalent of Thanksgiving. Also known as Second Harvest, Mabon falls on the Autumn Equinox and is a celebration of abundance, of balance and of reflection. Symbols of Mabon include grapes, vines, wine, pine cones, acorns, dried leaves, wheat and horns of plenty. (The symbol of wine is one I enthusiastically support.) Mabon is a Welsh word meaning "great son" and in Wiccan mythology also refers to the son of the Great Mother, The Divine Son of Light.

Up until the end of January this year I was dating a Wiccan, and I had observed and helped celebrate Mabon with him. I'm not a believer, but I really enjoyed the marking of the seasons and the respect for the cycles of nature that is a significant aspect of Wicca.

With that backstory in mind I was intrigued to spot a fragrance called Mabon on the Fleurage Perfume Atelier website. (Fleurage Perfume Atelier is a Melbourne based fragrance studio who create and sell their own all natural fragrances, create bespoke fragrances, and run classes in perfumery.) To quote the website's description of Mabon:
An autumnal chord of woods, earth and spices. Inspired by the seasonal harvest festival when the earth begins to rest and we gather the rewards of a fruitful spring and summer.

A true spicy fougere where sharp spices are enveloped in rich warm woods and leather then relax into the deeper smokey resins and earth notes. A perfume for men.
When I visited Fleurage back in June (and met the lovely owner, and nose, Emma) it was the first thing I tried, and ultimately what I decided to purchase. I had a lovely time visiting the Atelier and I would heartily recommend it if you happen to be in Melbourne. In hindsight I wish I hadn't made my decision to buy Mabon so quickly, because I would have loved to have had a reason to sample more of the fragrances Emma creates. Next trip I've promised myself!

Mabon, by Fleurage Perfume Atelier
Eau de Parfum
Top Notes: Allspice, Pepper
Middle Notes: Cardamom, Bay leaf, Mimosa
Base Notes: Patchouli, Myrrh, Vetiver
Nose: Emma Leah

[Notes and description by Fleurage Perfume Atelier.]

5 Minutes
Mabon opens as a gorgeous spicy fougere (or 'fern'), with peppery top notes overlaid on herbal and incense notes. I haven't smelled Mimosa in isolation so I can't say for sure what it smells like, but I presume the slightly floral and woody note in the heart of Mabon comes from it (if the descriptions of the aroma which I have read online are any indication). My first impression is a combination of the lofty spice and incense notes, over a green, herbal base. There is a lovely almost menthol note in there, which is possibly a combination of the pepper, bay and vetiver. There is a very noticeable balance between warm and cold tones, with the warmth of the cardamon and allspice offset against the cool herbal bay and vetiver.

30 Minutes
At the 30 minute mark Mabon is slightly softer, a little less spicy, but still a lovely fougere with an incense and slight menthol edge to it. It also seems a little sweeter, woodier and more earthy, which is possibly the mimosa and patchouli becoming more noticeable as some of the allspice and pepper depart. Perhaps it is more of the vetiver base coming through too, as vetiver can have that wonderful earthiness that I have described as a 'raspy' and 'green jute' quality in the past. (Like old rope, but in a good way.) I don't really get much of a sense of any leather note, as would be suggested by the description, as I normally associate leathers with a smokey birch tar quality that I don't notice in Mabon.

2 Hours
After 2 hours Mabon has become considerably warmer and more incense in feel, with the vetiver, patchouli and myrrh basenotes giving it more of a church incense quality. The fougere greenness and peppery topnotes are much less noticeable, but still lend the fragrance a little bit of a cool tone to offset the earthiness of the incense. It still smells complex and exotic, but is a much gentler beast than the intense spicy opening. At 2 hours the longevity and projection on my skin is moderate.

Wonderful! Mabon is a complex natural perfume that unfolds on the skin, from quite an intense and spicy green opening to it's final phase as a slightly green and spicy, earthy incense fragrance. As you would expect with handmade natural fragrances the individual elements in the fragrance live and die on the skin, so it is in a constant state of change. I loved every stage of Mabon's evolution.

I think one thing that bears mentioning is the love and care that Fleurage put into the presentation. The fragrance comes in a complex rigid card box which is actually 2 boxes. The lower section opens to reveal the natural pump spray, while the top section is a 2 part base and lid that holds the fragrance bottle securely in a flocked molded base. A foam insert in the top of the box also holds the cap of the bottle securely, ensuring that the bottle is secure and does not roll around. The slender paper sleeve keeps the 2 sections of the top box together. Complicated, ingenious and no doubt quite expensive to produce for a company creating small runs of fragrances.

The art deco inspired style of Fleurage is also consistent; from the packaging, to the website, to the interior of the atelier (which I photographed here). There is a great tradition of smaller artisanal brands who hand make natural perfumery, and it's wonderful to think that we have one of our own here in Oz. The brand may have only come into existence in 2007, but it exists in the same spirit.

[For my reviews of other incense themed fragrances try here.]

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review - "Pour l'Homme" by Jacques Fath

Aka "The Little Fragrance That Could".

The problem with reviewing anything (clothes, wine, whatever) is that it's easy to find yourself drifting towards the top end of the market. In the search for newness, creativity, rarity and something with a clear point of view, it's easy to forget there are gems to be found outside of the more niche brands. It's also true that most people either simply can't afford to splash over $200 on a bottle of fragrance, or just would never dream of it.

Soooo, I thought it was time to review something I really like and which is much more affordable, "Pour l'Homme" by Jacques Fath. It may not be a pinnacle of the fragrance art, but it's a very appealing fragrance at a great price point. As of writing it sells for $44.95 for a 75ml EDT spray on internet retailer Cosmetics Now (which is where I bought my bottle).

Jacques Fath on the beach at Cannes, 1948. Photo: Walter Carone/Paris Match.
Jacques Fath was a self taught French couturier, who although he was well known for daywear and accessories, was most famous for his extravagant ballgowns. Often inspired by nature or 18th century art, his gowns were stunning confections which nevertheless were also known for their purity of line and femininity. He also fostered and developed the talents of younger designers who worked in his atelier, such as Guy Laroche, Valentino and Givenchy. At the height of the house he employed more than 500 staff and was reportedly much loved by his staff, allowing the seamstresses to take home fabric offcuts large enough to make clothes for their children, and making the wedding dresses for staff who married.

Fath at work with a model, 1951.
The story doesn't have a happy ending unfortunately, as Fath was only 42 and at the peak of his career when he died of leukemia in 1954. The house remained open until 1957, directed by Fath's widow with the assistance of some of his previous design team.

The vast majority of the Fath fragrances were released in the years after Fath's death, with only one female fragrance "Fath de Fath" released in 1953 while he was still alive. The Fath fragrance arm has had numerous owners over the years, with several attempts to relaunch the brand and bring it back to the prestige of the original brand. Under the current owner Panouge the fragrances have been once again edited, this time by industrial perfumers Parfex. Sadly this has become fairly common practice, with modern versions of older fragrances sometimes bearing little or no relation to their original versions, as companies 'edit' them to reduce the cost of the juice (and remove costly or now banned materials).

Pour l'Homme, by Jacques Fath (1955, 1998).
Eau de Toilette
Notes: cedar leaf, bergamot, grapefruit, rose, raspberry, violet, amber, patchouli, tonka bean & incense.
Nose: 1955 original, unknown. 1998 reformulation by Oliver Gillotin. Re-edited by Parfex (year unknown)

[Notes via Panouge]

5 Minutes
Pour l'Homme opens with a fresh floral/citrus/fruit accord over the warmth of amber. Like other notes such as 'leather' in fragrance, amber is actually an accord (or blend) of materials, which in this case combine to give a golden, slightly powdery, resinous and caramel note to fragrances. I find that to my nose no single note amongst the fruit and flowers particularly stands clear of the rest, instead the effect is of a juicy floral with some freshness from the citrus and cedar leaf. Even from the opening though the warmth of the amber/patchouli/tonka bean is evident.

30 Minutes
Some of the floral notes have started to flee even at the 30 minute mark, and the main impression is a slightly floral incense and warm amber, overlaid with a fresh note that is probably the 'cedar leaf' and some of the bergamot and grapefruit.

2 Hours
At the 2 hour mark Pour l'Homme is an oriental amber fragrance, with a slightly sweet edge. Once the floral and fresher notes start to depart, it becomes more apparent that the sweeter fruit note is quite tenacious and manages to hang in there well into the drydown. The main body of the fragrance though is solidly a warm amber and tonka bean accord, given loft and an oriental feel from the patchouli, incense and cedar.

The Verdict
Pour l'Homme is very gentlemanly and masculine, perhaps a little old school in feel, and quite elegant. I keep using the word warm in my descriptions, but that is essentially the essence of it for me. This autumn and winter I have worn this quite a bit as a daytime fragrance for work and really enjoy its comforting warmth. It's not especially groundbreaking or challenging I have to say, but it's very wearable and elegant, and all that at a very affordable price.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review - Variations On A Theme

I've purchased and sampled quite a few fragrances this year so far, and one thing I keep coming back to as a theme for 2013 is incense notes. Traditionally I was never much of a one for spice and smoke (or leathers for that matter, as I wrote about the other day). I was always more interested in florals, citrus, marine notes and light woods. 

Tastes change, and also become more adventurous given exposure to new ideas and new brands. I've even grown to love elements I might have previously thought of as angular or harsh. Hot dry spices. The jute rasp of real vetiver. Intense smoky birch tar. Frankincense, patchouli, myrrh and other incense style notes are generally not as challenging, but can contain aspects of all of these sorts of notes. Perfumers can choose to smooth off this angularity, while still allowing the incense to give loft and richness to the composition, or enhance it's angularity with other spices, herbs or wood notes.

Three of the incense based fragrances I have purchased or sampled recently are Cardinal by James Heeley, and 2 of the 5 member Series 3: Incense collection by Comme des Garçons. The Comme des Garçons series really caught my attention, with each fragrance in the series being inspired by various world religions. Kyoto for Japanese Buddhism and Shintoism. Avignon for Catholicism. Jaisalmer for Indian Hinduism. Quarzazate for Islam. Zagorsk for Orthodox Christianity.
Photo via

Cardinal, by Heeley (2006). 
Eau de Parfum.
Notes: White Linen, Baie Rose, Black Pepper, Labdanum, Frankincense, Myrrh, Vetiver, Grey Amber & Patchouli
Nose: James Heeley
(Sampled as a 2ml EDP spray, courtesy of Peony Haute Perfumery)
"Incense enrobed in folds of white linen.

A timeless scent built around the traditional incense notes of labdanum, ciste, frankincense and myhr. An air of lightness and purity is portrayed by a note of fresh, clean linen. The association of grey amber, patchouli and vetiver, imparts this perfume with mysticism and a rare and contemporary elegance."
[Notes and description via Heeley Parfums]

Series 3. Incense: Avignon, by Comme des Garçons (2002)
Eau de Toilette.
Notes: Roman Camomile, Cistus Oil, Elemi, Incense, Vanilla, Patchouli, Palisander 
Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour

Series 3. Incense: Kyoto, by Comme des Garçons (2002)
Eau de Toilette.
Notes: Incense, Cypress Oil, Coffee, Teak Wood, Vetiver, Patchouli, Amber, Everlasting Flower, Virginian Cedar
Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour
"Incense, to make one dream of a spiritual journey across the world's historical centres. An evolution of time and space."
[Notes and description by Comme des Garçons Parfums]

5 Minutes
Cardinal, by Heeley
On first spray Cardinal opens with a surprisingly sharp, sour and fizzy note with a medicinal edge. While it's quite striking it is fleeting though, and almost gone by the time I tried to put my finger on what it reminded me of. What then becomes more noticeable is the dry spice-like notes of classic frankincense and myrrh church incense, the ambery labdanum and the heat from the two forms of pepper (the baie rose, or pink peppercorns, and black pepper). The effect is a little reminiscent of the hot dry angularity of spices like turmeric, cardamon or caraway. The herbal 'green jute' rasp of vetiver is also noticeable. What I don't really notice at all is the 'white linen' accord.

Incense: Avignon, by Comme des Garçons
Avignon opens with a warm blast of incense. The vanilla and palisander (Brazilian rosewood) add a warm woody backbone to the fragrance, which compliments the loft and spice qualities of the incense notes, the light floral/amber cistus, and the slightly herbaceous opening notes from the chamomile and elemi. Instead of the dry spice sourness of Cardinal by Heeley, the effect here is less angular and reminiscent of polished woods and church incense while still maintaining a hot, dry spice feel.

Incense: Kyoto, by Comme des Garçons
Kyoto opens with a beautiful green, cool, incense quality backed with light teak wood, and overlaid with a lofty blossom note. There is no mention in the official notes of anything especially floral, but to my nose there is a lovely aldehydic almost cherry blossom note. The brightness and feeling of volume in the floral note make me think that there are definitely some aldehydes at work here. The cypress and incense give the fragrance an almost menthol coolness, and this early the wood and vetiver are noticeable but not especially strong. This knocked my socks off at first sniff in the store, and it still does!

30 Minutes
Cardinal, by Heeley
The sharpness and austerity is largely gone, and in its place is a fairly light incense with a very slightly sour edge. Given the intense blast of the opening, only a half hour later this is surprisingly very light on my skin indeed. I'm not sure I could tell you what white linen smells like (clean laundry musk perhaps?) but I still don't get any impression of it.

Incense: Avignon, by Comme des Garçons
30 minutes in and there isn't a dramatic change. Some of the lofty opening notes have departed leaving in its place a warm spicy and woody incense accord with some smoke. Light spice, incense, balsam and wood. I don't have a church going background, but I have it on good authority that it is a very evocative sketch of a Catholic church. (In my mind I also can't help but compare it to Tauer's "Incense Extrême" which I reviewed here, and which is cold and flinty by comparison. Perhaps more echoey cathedral in that case.)

Incense: Kyoto, by Comme des Garçons
After 30 minutes some of the blossom note has softened, but that airy quality added to the incense and green, woody notes still gives that spacious, cool, forest feel. What has become more noticeable however is the warmth of the teak note, the sweeter and warmer notes from the immortelle ('Everlasting Flower' here) and amber, and the genius of the coffee note. Coffee! Coffee, teak and vetiver may just be one of my favourite accord ideas; warm, toasted, dry, and slightly raspy. I'm still prepared to gush about this, as you may have noticed.

2 Hours
Cardinal, by Heeley
Ok, pleasant but very subtle. 2 hours in and my impressions of Cardinal are very similar to the 30 minute mark, with a little less of the sour edge. A little less of everything to be honest, as the longevity on my skin has been quite poor. The effect is pleasant, as I said, but so barely there that I'm not sure I'd be prepared to invest in an eau de parfum this fleeting.

Incense: Avignon, by Comme des Garçons
By the 2 hour mark Avignon has become a calmer, gentler beast. One thing I sometimes notice with spice/incense fragrances is a bit of sourness (an edge which I can only think to describe as urinous, if you'll beg my pardon). Avignon largely escapes that at all stages, and especially by the 2 hour mark there is no sign of any sourness. At the 2 hour mark Avignon is a study in incense, wood, vanilla and patchouli.

Incense: Kyoto, by Comme des Garçons
After 2 hours Kyoto has softened and warmed up considerably. Much (but not all) of the floral note has departed, and what remains is a cool green fir edge over an incense/patchouli heart, and a teak, cedar, vetiver base. The warmer notes of amber, immortelle and coffee round out the composition without being especially dominant at this point.

While I quite liked Cardinal, my heart belongs to the 2 Comme des Garçons.

The two are studies in contrast, and reflect different aspects of incense. Avignon pushes the incense theme in a warm, dry, spicy direction, while Kyoto emphasises the airy, cool, floral possibilities. Avignon is rich browns and golds, while Kyoto is the pink of cherry blossoms and the deep forest green.  Both Kyoto and Avignon are striking in their own ways, very evocative of the religious theme of incense, and with a clear incense note that runs through the entire duration of the fragrance.

I also found the longevity of Kyoto and Avignon to be superior of the three, despite the fact that they are EDT formulations compared to the EDP Cardinal.

[For other incense related reviews see also my reviews of Incense Extrême by Andy Tauer and Cuir Velours by Naomi Goodsir Parfums, and coming up I'll also be reviewing "Mabon" by Fleurage Perfume Atelier.]