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.]

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Selling Shiseido

I recently stumbled across a fantastic series of articles and a treasure trove of images about the history of Japanese cosmetics and fragrance company Shiseido on the Visualizing Cultures website of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Visualizing Cultures is described as "image-driven scholarship" and frankly nobody loves a pretty picture more than I do. I'm also intrigued by early modern Japan, the period when contact with the west created incredible cultural changes over a fairly short period of time.

I'm also a little sweet on Shiseido as a brand, having always loved the 80s art direction by Serge Lutens and the fragrance I wear (and previously reviewed) Tactics by Shiseido.

Shiseido perfumes, ca. 1918–21. Ume no Hana (Plum Blossom, WOO-ME in English on the label) & Fuji no Hana (Wisteria). Yabe Sue, designer. [Image from MIT Visualizing Cultures.]

The series of articles is called "Selling Shiseido: Cosmetics Advertising & Design in Early 20th-Century Japan" by Gennifer Weisenfeld. It's quite a fascinating history and treasure trove of art deco packaging and design.

Shiseido cosmetics poster, 1930. [Image from MIT Visualizing Cultures.]
The series of articles begins with the Introduction in Selling Shiseido I. It continues with a series of themed visual timelines called Visual Narratives in Selling Shiseido II, and Selling Shiseido III is a huge set of Image Galleries.

Review - "Cuir Velours" by Naomi Goodsir Parfums

I'm a late passenger on the leather fragrance train. My mistaken prejudice had always been that the leather style was old mannish and a bit too, well, butch for me. The sort of thing you'd catch a whiff of in barbershops, or at the tobacconist. While, in the meantime I've been challenging myself by embracing a bit more yin in fragrances.

The sort of thing you'd catch a whiff of at the florist, perhaps.

Leather in fragrance is actually an accord, a combination of either natural extraits or synthesized aroma molecules that brings to mind the rich smell of leather. The idea. The memory. Richness. Warmth. A little tarry, smoky bite. An abstract that evokes nature.

One of the cool things I've discovered about leather fragrances is that they can smell amazing on women. Softened with floral notes, sexed up with amber, or even with the padded shoulders and mannish tie of tobacco, they can exude confidence and sophistication. In fact one of the theories about the explosion of leather fragrances for women in the 1920s (Chanel's "Cuir de Russie" or Caron's "Tabac Blond" for example) is that women were smoking in unprecedented numbers and leather based fragrances smell so amazing on those naughty, naughty emancipated smokers.

These days the majority of bottles on the fragrance counters are severely gendered. Women are flowers, fruits, sweeties and sometimes even bubblegum, and men are citrus, woods, tobacco, spices and yes leather. Sure that's a generalisation, but the mass market has become more heavily polarised over the decades and sadly a lot more predictable.

So thank the fates, and everyone else, that as the mass market fragrances got more boring the niche or artisanal fragrances got a lot more interesting. Nature hates a vacuum, as they say. Those niche market rascals are also often much less hung up on gender, and for my money that's a hell of a lot more interesting and sexy.

"Cuir Velours" (aka "Soft Leather") by Australian milliner/accessories designer Naomi Goodsir is very firmly unisex. I had heard good things about "Cuir Velours", so a while back while I was cruising LuckyScent (and ordering sample decants like a demon) I added a sample to my basket.

O, as they say, M G.

On the strength of the sample I searched for a supplier closer to home, and discovered Peony Haute Perfumery in Melbourne was a stockist. I may not have decided to visit Melbourne based on this alone, but it sure as hell was a contributing factor. Go and read about my visit to Peony if you haven't already and perhaps shed a quiet tear that such fabulous places still exist.

Cuir Velours, by Naomi Goodsir Parfums (2012)
Notes: Leather, tobacco, rum, cistus labdanum, incense, fleur d’immortelle
Nose: Julien Rasquinet

"Oriental leather. A deep & textured perfume, that evocatively encases the skin like soft velvet suede. A tobacco atmosphere supported by notes of rum, cistus labdanum, incense & fleur d'immortelle."

[Description by Naomi Goodsir Parfums.]

5 Minutes
The opening of Cuir Velours is gorgeous; tobacco and leather support a beautiful boozy fruit set of top notes. Peachy, rummy and a quick flash of something that smells to me like fresh strawberry. The actual fruit, with its tartness intact, rather than a sugary candy idea of strawberry. All of this is given loft by the incense note. The balance is so good that the whole thing sings as a rich whole.

30 Minutes
The fleeting fresh fruit notes have now given way to a more raisiny rum fruit note and it is easier to detect the smokier tones of the incense and tobacco. One of the notes is immortelle, or helichrysum, which is described as having a maple syrup like odour, with honey, straw, fruit and tea characteristics. The effect is warm, sexy and sophisticated. The projection and sillage are very good.

2 Hours
One word that is sure to make artisanal fragrance fans narrow their eyes and clutch their pearls is the word linear. Fragrances that are unchanging and tend not to evolve on the skin. This is often a characteristic of less expensive mass market fragrances, due to their structure and the types of synthetics that are used.  

Cuir Velours is not linear, and although it does evolve it does not go through a dramatic change over time. I think this is primarily because the structure is so dominated by heart and base notes right from the get go. The transition it does make is into a softer, amber version of itself. The leather, smokiness and incense are all still detectable, overlaid with a softened version of the boozy fruit heart of the fragrance. The balance of this fragrance is noteworthy, with all aspects working in harmony.

Love. Cuir Velours is sexy, perfect for nighttime and cooler weather, when something warm and smoky is called for. I get fantastic sillage and longevity from this fragrance. When I initially assembled the pump action spray that ships with the bottle, I thought the spray result was a little mean at first, but in reality I wouldn't want anything more. The strength of this fragrance is very much an Eau de Parfum. 

All in all a great investment and this winter I have been wearing this a lot already.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Apologies if you visit this blog and things seem a little rough around the edges and in flux. I'd love to be one of those people who can give birth to a creative enterprise fully formed, but in reality I'm a trier. A tinkerer. For me is the give it a go, suck and see approach.

For example, as I write this the header I made is red and green. It's ok, but after I put it up and thought "that looks nice" the second thing I thought was "ugh, Christmas". So this too shall change soon no doubt. Maybe I'll resurrect it in December...