Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review - "L'Air du Désert Marocain" & "Incense Extrême" by Andy Tauer

A little over a week ago I wrote about receiving some of the samples I had sent away for, including a wonderful set of 6 samples from independent Swiss perfumer Andy Tauer. Tauer has created quite a buzz with his beautifully designed fragrances, in particular his blockbuster "L'Air du Désert Marocain".

Tauer fragrances are not specifically marketed by gender, and many of the fragrances are very unisex in feel. When I chose my 5 samples (the 6th is assigned by Tauer) I opted for the fragrances that favoured spice, woody, aromatic, green and citrus notes. So the first two fragrances I'm going to review are No. 2 L'Air du Désert Marocain & No. 5 Incense Extrême.

Photos by Andy Tauer

No. 2 L'Air du Désert Marocain
Head Notes: Coriander and cumin, carefully blended with petitgrain.
Heart Notes: A warm heart note with rock rose and a hint of jasmine.
Body Notes: Dry cedar woods and vetiver, brilliantly joined on a fine ambergris background.

Powerful, sensual and pure. Laying on the bed, watching the moon raising over the sandy hills of the Saharan desert, he dreamt the fragrance of a Moroccan night.

No. 5 Incense Extrême
Head Notes: Coriander with fresh petitgrain.
Heart Notes: A rich incense, softened with orris wood.
Body Notes: Dry and vibrant woods over a rich ambergris base.

Minimalist, intense, clear. A perfume built around a natural CO2 extract of Boswellia serrata, aka incense; it captures the roughness of the climate of the semi desert where Boswellia trees thrives. It is translucent like the first whiff of incense smoke from Boswellia resin on red gleaming coal. Yet, it is crisp like a night in the desert.

[All notes and descriptions by Andy Tauer.]

5 Minutes
No. 2 L'Air du Désert Marocain
The first time I sprayed this the first words out of my mouth were "Oh, wow" and just now they were the first words to cross my mind again. First impression is a big, transparent, airy hit of spice from the coriander and cumin, supported by a lovely soft green floral accord. A few minutes in and peppery dry spice notes start to soften and the dry cedarwood and vetiver notes become more noticeable. Maybe I'm being swayed by the name and the marketing, but 5 minutes in and LAdDM is evocative of a desert landscape; sun dried timber, scrubby vegetation, warm ambers and spice.

No. 5 Incense Extrême
Like "L'Air du Désert Marocain", this also opens with a strong hit of coriander spice, but with a bitter, green accent. Oddly, my first reaction is that it has a fleeting pyrethrum insecticide note. Very short lived and not totally pleasant while it lasts. If LAdDM is painted in golds and ambers, Incense Extrême is painted in flinty mineral greens. At this stage I find IE interesting, but not very approachable.

30 Minutes
No. 2 L'Air du Désert Marocain
The volatile coriander and cumin notes have dissipated quite a bit, and the fragrance has settled into a beautiful warm, musky, slightly spicy feel, with some floral sweetness from the jasmine and rock rose. I'm not certain if the "rock rose" is labdanum resin, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was as labdanum has sweet, citrus, warm, woody and ambery qualities that seem present in the heart of this fragrance.

No. 5 Incense Extrême
The frankincense incense note (which makes up a large part of this fragrance) is much stronger now and some of the green bitterness has dissipated. Where many frankincense fragrances emphasise the warmer aspects of frankincense, Tauer has pushed this in a different direction; colder, more bitter, darker and with a dry transparent quality. This is not hippy frankincense, this is the cold stone floors, dark corners and the smoking censers of a chilly Gothic cathedral.

2 Hours
No. 2 L'Air du Désert Marocain
The dry down of this fragrance is gorgeous. The expansive desert night skies are largely gone, and in its place is the warmth of the caravan. Curls of incense smoke. Dry aromatic timbers, and warm amber light. Beautiful.

No. 5 Incense Extrême
Although Incense Extrême is an Eau de Parfum format, the intensity of the dry down is not as strong as the Eau de Toilette Intense format of LAdDM. I don't mind it in an ascetic sort of way, but while LAdDM enfolds you in aromatic warmth, IE holds you at arm's length and casts a critical eye over you. It might partly be a holdover from the orris/iris in the heart note, but the dry down makes me think a little of hairspray.

Despite the commonalities of the coriander, petitgrain and cedarwood, these are two fragrances are an exercise in contrasts. Both have an incense element to them; in L'Air du Désert Marocain this is achieved through dry spice, vetiver and aromatics, and in Incense Extrême a big slug of Boswellia Serrata extrait (Indian Frankincense, or Salai).

While I'm an unabashed fan of the warmth of LAdDM, the chilly smoke of IE interests me intellectually but misses the wow factor. That comes down to personal taste however. Both are very well constructed fragrances that go through distinct and exciting stages from first spray to the dry down. These are not boring, linear, mass market fragrances, but fragrances with life, a point of view and a bit of heart.

Do what I did and try the sample set, it won't cost you that much, each spray has enough for quite a few wears in it, and it's fun to sample a range and see the differences and the similarities. Hopefully you'll find something you like enough to shell out for the full sized bottle. Oh, and the service was good, I received my order in less than a fortnight from ordering, and the packaging and presentation were excellent. Recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review - "Anton", "Elliott" & "Peter" by Sweet Anthem

I stumbled upon Sweet Anthem handmade perfumes a few months back, and was very impressed with Meredith's online presentation, the design of her retail space, and the way a whole community has grown around Sweet Anthem. I ordered samples of her 3 masculine scents online, and they arrived earlier this week.

Of the 3, 2 of them are presented in an oil format and the 3rd in a solid soy wax and shea butter format. I began my fragrance wearing ways in the early 80s, and grew up with the take-no-prisoners blockbusters of the 80's, fragrances that the term sillage ('wake') barely seems adequate for. Non-solvent based fragrances are often quieter, more like intimate skin scents, than something that announces your presence. Despite this the longevity of all 3 was pretty good, with Elliott the least long wearing.

I've worn one a day to work, but sat down tonight to properly test all 3 and give my thoughts.

Horseradish vodka, baked apples, cigar smoke, and the salty pops of red caviar. Orchids from the palace apothecary dress the table. Nothing beats a fancy party to bring a little drama into your life.
Notes: Apple, Black Pepper, Horseradish, Opium, Orchid, Saffron, Teak
Type: Musk Fragrances

Our favorite parts of summer here in Seattle. Strolling down by the waterfront, hikes through the Puget Sound rain forests, and days down on the beach — and just a hint of Seattle grunge.
Notes: Labdanum, Oakmoss, Pine, Rain
Type: Woods Fragrances

A black currant-champagne cocktail for the Emperor after a long day out on the hunt, sipped as he daydreams about a certain wooden tallship.
Notes: Black Currant, Champagne, Leather, Lemon, Matcha Tea, Patchouli
Type: Woods Fragrances

[Above notes and descriptions by Meredith of Sweet Anthem]

5 Minutes
Anton (oil format): My first impression is a big slug of sweet apple liqueur. I can't tell you what Calvados actually smells like, but this starts as my idea of Calvados. Highly perfumed Calvados and the spicy warmth of baked apples. Shortly after the first blast of sweet apple it settles down a little as the bulk of the apple starts to depart and the saffron, pepper, teak and opium(?) start to counteract the sweetness. On first impressions it was way too sweet for my taste, but within 10 minutes it's much more enjoyable.
Elliott (oil format): This guy has me confused. I was expecting something woody and green, like a rain washed forest, however, the first 5 minutes of this on me were curiously quite sweet, despite there being nothing in the notes that reads as 'sweet'. I get a sugary berry note which actually made me wonder if I hadn't mixed up Elliott and the blackcurrant Peter, or somehow tainted the skin patch during application. Not dominant, but noticeable.
Peter (solid perfume): When I was a child I was much beloved of a particular English boiled lolly my grandparents always seemed to have in good supply. Each came wrapped in a white paper wrapper with a full colour picture to denote the contents, sometimes a lemon, or a blackcurrant, or a pineapple etc. 5 minutes in and Peter is a hand full of these, with a higher percentage of the blackcurrant ones, and a couple of lemons for good measure. I don't mean that to sound harsh because it is not at all unpleasant, but very, very sweet. No noticeable signs of the leather or matcha tea yet.

30 Minutes
Anton: Anton has lost its apple and settled into a sweet, perfumed, slightly oriental muskiness. Enjoyable, with a small nod towards the kind of Indian or Middle Eastern confection that consists of a spice grain coated in sugar. My favourite so far.
Elliott: Still stumped. This has a sort of affable sweetness but I can barely detect the pine or any woodiness. Labdanum is complex and is known to have honey, flowery, mintlike and sometimes hints of plum at times, so perhaps this is what I'm noticing. However there is a definite sugary quality. Elliott is starting to make me doubt myself!
Peter: Nice, and a bit less syrupy now that the the other notes are coming through, but still too much like candy for my personal taste.

2 Hours
Anton: 2 hours in and Anton has a very pleasant transparent, dry spicy quality with a light overlay of musk lolly.
Elliott: A barely there sweetness with balsamic undertones. The rain and pine notes seem to have completely passed me by.
Peter: This is less blackcurrant lolly as time has gone on, and more like a light cordial. Very pleasant but still way too sweet for me.

In summary, these are very nice fragrances, well designed and crafted, although Elliott did not seem to conform to expectations on me, and faded reasonably quickly. If anything both Elliott and Peter might benefit from some amping up of the basenotes.

Fragrance is very subjective however, and when it comes down to style and preference all 3 of these fragrances are too sweet for my taste. I do quite like the basenotes of Anton however, once the bulk of the sweetness has departed. Given my love of aromatic fougeres, incense notes, woods, leathers, citrus accords and even the odd ozonic floral, it really should come as no surprise that sweet fruit and berry notes are a challenge.

I'm still not convinced that I didn't somehow taint my testing of Elliott, as my experience was so different from what I expected. So once I've washed this all off and slept on it, I might came back and test Elliott all on his own. If my experience is different I'll amend this entry with a footnote.

Monday, August 20, 2012


 Within the past week the post office has delivered an embarrassment of riches...

Andy Tauer 6 sample tin set.
First off a beautifully presented set of 6 samples from Swiss independent perfumer Andy Tauer.

Fantastic presentation, with an information sheet on each sample.
Tauer has had a lot of success with one of his fragrances in particular, L'Air Du Desert Marocain so of course I had to select that as one of the samples. So far I've only sampled 2 of them, and I'll be writing up my thought on all of them soon.

Then today I was stoked this afternoon to find an envelope in my letterbox from Meredith of Sweet Anthem in Seattle, USA.

Glassine envelope of samples from Sweet Anthem.
I ordered the 3 masculine scents that Meredith currently has in the range. I thought all 3 would be in the oil format, but Meredith included one of them as a solid fragrance.

In hindsight I'm pleased she did, because it'll give me an opportunity to try that format. She also included a bonus free sample in the solid format of one of her feminine scents, which I had a quick sniff of and it was lovely. I haven't skin tested any of them yet, but I'll be reviewing those too when I do.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review - "Merchants of Menace" by Aromantik

Aromantik is the Sydney based fragrance brand of Australian independent natural perfumer Sally Woodward-Hawes. I stumbled across the brand by accident when I was looking for skincare online, as it was one of the fragrance ranges featured on the website theorganicbeautyshop.com.au. I was curious to find out more about the brand, and also see if they had a sampling program, so I did a quick search and found their website Aromantik. 

I decided to purchase the 6 sample pack, using 2 of my choices to get the larger 4ml Eau de Parfum spray "Merchants of Menace" sample, along with 4 of the perfume oils. For the 4 oils I chose 3 of the more unisex sounding fragrances; the blood orange "Strangers in Blood", the gourmand "Dark Side of the Spoon" and the exotic "Cabinet of Curiousities", along with the more feminine sounding floral "Love & Strife" as my 4th choice.

Aromantik perfume oil and Natural Eau de Parfum spray samples
The service I got from Sally at Aromantik was fantastic! I ordered online on the Wednesday night and by Friday I had the parcel in my letterbox. Wow. I emailed Sally to thank her for the fantastic service and fragrances, and after a short correspondence she sent me another sample of a new format of Eau de Parfum spray in the "Cabinet of Curiousities" to try.

And that right there is one of the best things about independent perfumers who do their business well. Not so much the free merch (although I am so thankful for that!) but the ability to interact and communicate with the person who has put their energy and creativity into making something special.

Shortly after Sally sent me my free sample I came down with a bad dose of bronchitis. So now about 4 weeks, and numerous boxes of tissues later (and having started this blog in the meantime) it's time to have a really good sniff and put down my thoughts. 6 fragrances is way too much to cover in one post so I'm going to just review the one that sparked my interest initially, and proved to be the most challenging, exciting and ultimately rewarding fragrance I have tried in years.

"Merchants of Menace" generous 4ml natural edp spray sample

"Merchants of Menace" Eau de Parfum spray

 Notes: Certified organic spearmint, certified organic French (Provence) lavender, French cacao absolute, geranium bourbon, dark Indonesian patchouli, oakmoss absolute, natural musk accord. 

Ingredients: Aqua (distilled water), ethanol (alcohol denat.), parfum (proprietary blend of natural botanical extracts, absolutes & essential oils), polysorbate 20 (essential oil solubiliser), parfum (natural preservative).

Sally has created this as a water based Eau de Parfum, using a small amount of alcohol and a solubiliser to help disperse the oils. The oils aren't totally dispersed, so a layer of darker essential oils does tend to separate out and sit on top of the juice. Some quick shakes (as suggested on the label) quickly mix in the oils and the fragrance turns milky.

5 Minutes
My initial impression is a big hit of toothpaste-y spearmint. This for me is a real challenge, as I'm not keen on the smell or taste of spearmint at all. I am that guy who will search through all the tubes of toothpaste on the supermarket shelves until I find on that is guaranteed not to contain any spearmint.

However, straight away there is something that starts to take the edge off all that spearmint, and makes me start to doubt my initial knee jerk reaction. The notes on the website state "... that it does not smell overly like any of it's 'individual notes' - it is the way these natural oils work together, in combination with your skins own chemistry, to create a unique & beautiful scent."

Once the initial blast of spearmint starts to subside I have to agree. I'm still finding the spearmint a little strong but a little after the 5 minute mark the musk, oakmoss and patchouli start to come through as a warm, spicy backbone to all that mint. I'm not able to identify the lavender, geranium and cacao listed in the notes, but I can see how the cooler, green elements present in the lavender would support the mint, while the geranium probably rounds it out and the cacao (a note I'm not particularly familiar with) probably adds to the warmth of the base notes.

30 Minutes
One striking thing about this fragrance is the projection and sillage (or fragrance 'wake'). One of the frequent disappointments with natural perfumes can be that you really don't get the projection and longevity of alcohol and synthetics, but the natural water based edp format of Merchants of Menace cannot be accused of this. Two small sprays on my hand and half an hour in I'm getting good solid projection from it.

Now we're talking! While the spearmint is still present, all the punchiest and most volatile aspects of it have started to soften and I'm starting to more than make my peace with it. By now the warmth of the oakmoss, musk and patchouli have added a darker and more mysterious element that blends with the uplifting quality of the spearmint. This has become really interesting!

Note to self: spray this when I start getting ready to go out, because 30 minutes in I'm happy with the result.

2 Hours
I love it! Projection and sillage are still reasonably good (in fact just as good as, if not better, than a mass market fragrance I purchased recently). It's not the big minty monster from the 5 minute mark. What it has become is something much more exciting to me; a spicy, warm musk fragrance with an incense note (courtesy of the patchouli and oakmoss combo at a guess) and a fascinating, uplifting top note. The obvious spearmint is gone, leaving a slightly medicinal, clean note that works well with the incense and musk of the base.

A winner. I really didn't think I would like this fragrance at first sniff, purely on account of the big hit of spearmint. However, it won me over pretty quickly and the highly unusual combination of the medicinal minty top note and the darker, muskier base notes is mysterious and intriguing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Two "L"s in marvellous?
~ Well, I'm an Aussie. It's a linguist-o cultural type thing.

I'm an early mid late forties fragrance junkie. The history. The science. The art. The alchemy that happens when raw ingredients meet creativity and knowledge. Smelling marvellous.

Once upon a time I was a Fragrance and Cosmetics Buyer for a chain of duty free retail stores. It was kind of fabulous and kind of stressfull, in almost equal measures. Retail can be exciting, rewarding and brutal, and this biz of lipsticks and scent is not for sissies.

I no longer work in the industry, but I do have dreams of being an indie perfumer. I'm currently purchasing raw materials, making my plans and dreaming up possibilities. I've always purchased essential oils and made my own room blends, and making skin scents seems like a natural progression. Maybe I'll just make them for me, maybe I'll make them to sell. Ultimately I want to explore the creativity and science behind making beautiful fragrances.

Along the way I'll be reviewing fragrances and sharing my thoughts, and I hope you'll enjoy trip. And it's true, you do smell MARVELLOUS.