Category Archives: perfume

Genuine oriental perfumes: it’s amazing what you find online

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As a certified oak moss fiend, I was delighted to be told in a Facebook fragrant fiends group about a ‘very mossy’ fragrance called Saat Safa by Al Rehab. I set off to find out more about it and stumbled onto a world of inexpensive and interesting fragrances.

I googled Al Rehab fragrances, found them on Amazon and started checking out their range. This is a well-respected Saudi Arabian perfume company that uses natural essences – bells started ringing for me, as Amouage are the best-known Saudi Arabian perfumers and their fragrances are highly acclaimed and very expensive. So the thing that astonished me when I checked out Al Rehab was the prices. These perfumes mostly come in oil form, in order to be acceptable to observant Muslim customers, and they’re in handy little 6ml roll-ons. Most of them are two quid; that’s three bucks, or 2.3 Euro. We are talking really low prices here for perfume. But is it any good?

Well yes, it is. It’s really nice, actually (apologies Al Rehab for doubting you). I tried three perfume oils today: Classic, Al Sharquiah, and White Full Perfume, all from Al Rehab. These are genuine perfumes from the Orient – the Middle East – as opposed to European imaginings of what Oriental perfumes smell like, and not one is even a tiny bit like Shalimar or Opium. These are smooth, flowery and woody and smell very natural, although they are very linear and change little from opening to base. Speaking of bases, they last reasonably well on the skin – 4 or 5 hours – but at this price you can top up as often as you like.

Classic: this is my favourite of the three. It is relatively light and has a lemony floral opening that becomes a little rosier and sweeter with a gentle woody base that rails off into a pleasant and lasting skin musk. It lasts really well and the deep base reminds me of the musk in Lovely and Narciso Rodriguez ‘for Her’.

Al Sharquiah: more the kind of jammy rose with woody and incense notes that I expect from a middle-eastern-style attar. This is feminine and elegant without being overpowering or ‘shouty’. It’s a rich, slightly ‘cooked’ rose that stays sweet and the classic woody base might well include a little of the kind of frankincense that reminds me of old churches and cold stones.

White Full perfume: oh boy this is JASMINE! Very very jasmine, with perhaps a sprinkle of orange blossom. It’s not indolic, which is nice, but it’s rich rich rich and round and warm and JASMINE. Did I mention the jasmine? In the market in Cairo you can buy necklaces made of hundreds of jasmine blossoms threaded onto a cord. It smells amazing to wear the fresh blooms around your neck with their rich sweet scent wafting up in the evening’s heat as you sit on a terrace. That is the situation to wear this perfume in. On a chilly April day in Wales it doesn’t really work.

So there you have a trio of fragrances for under a tenner, including shipping. These are great fun and very cheerful scents to either throw in your handbag for daily use or for holidays. I think I may well go back and try a few more – Cherry Blossoms, Silver and Dehn Al-Oud all sound intriguing.

An interesting point is that because these fragrances are in oil form they should pass the UK Royal Mail’s new regulations on posting perfume internationally (just don’t do it – don’t even try, it’s too depressing to have a parcel opened and your perfume destroyed). At these prices I’m prepared to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Pour un Homme de Caron: the big, butch Easter bunny

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Happy Easter, readers. The festival of sweet things has dictated my choice of fragrance today: Pour un Homme, from the French house of Caron, purveyors of the gorgeous Tabac Blond which IScent enjoyed so much. This is, as you might guess from the name, a masculine fragrance. I am female, but I wear it regardless, because it is a thing of beauty. It is very simple and very chic, in the way of so many classic French gentlemen’s fragrances.

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It is advertised by the magnificent French rugby star, Sebastien Chabal, a towering, powerful sportsman with a beard and mane of flowing black hair. He is utterly terrifying on the pitch, but according to his wife, is a gentle giant. I think this might be the most classic combination of fragrance and celebrity endorsement ever – Chabal’s physicality and  power contained in the elegant black tailoring are a perfect visual metaphor for the combination of beastliness and restraint.

This classic of French male grooming was created in 1934 by Caron’s resident genius, Ernest Daltroff, who also created Tabac Blond, Narcisse Noire, Bellodgia, and many others. When you spray on Pour un Homme, you’re hit by a wave of pure, blue-purple lavender, fresh and sharp and bright like a high, clear note. It’s very ‘barbershop’ and exactly what you expect from a masculine.

But then there’s the clever bit. The vanilla comes in, forming a rich, round cuddly tenor counterpoint that adds depth and character while also adding warmth, strength and lasting power. You can see why I love this. It is the ultimate ‘Daddy’ fragrance (issues? moi?). The vanilla is not sugary or sweet, and it plays on a ‘caramel’ note that Luca Turin swears exists in some variants of lavender. This woody vanilla anchors the fragrance firmly on the skin and gives it good lasting power – I spritzed this morning and I can still smell it 15 hours later.

Like The Duke in the top picture, this fragrance has good humour and approachability, but it’s strong and upright. Another that’s well worth trying.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue: the magic spell of the blue hour

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Hello, I’m Wordbird, and while IScent takes a well-deserved trip to the perfumeries of France, I shall try to fill her shoes. I hope I won’t bore you!

I know IScent said all kinds of nice things about me, but in fact, she has been a ‘perfumista’ longer than I have. I always liked perfume, but I wasn’t fascinated by it. Until, that is, I went on holiday to France seven years ago, taking with me a book called The Emperor of Scent, which I’d picked up in the SciFi section for holiday reading. It turned out to be real science, not fiction: the story of a talented biophysicist called Luca Turin who was researching how we smell things. It was a fascinating read, but what really inspired my imagination was Luca Turin’s comments on perfumes and the perfume industry.

Turin claims Mitsouko is the perfume he would take with him if he was being sent off on an inter-galactic space mission. He describes it as lovingly as if it was his favourite child. I had to smell it. Being in France meant that I could spend hours in a handy branch of Marionaud, smelling many of the amazing things he described in glowing terms usually reserved for works of art. At a shopping mall in a provincial French town I was able to try things I would have struggled to find at home in Wales, including the entire Guerlain range of classics – Jicky,  Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondee, Vol de Nuit, Chamade, Jardins de Bagatelle, Nahema, Parure, Mahora, Champs-Elysees, L’Instant, Insolence… I came out of the shop reeling and reeking.

Some of those perfumes repulsed me – traditional, oakmoss-laden chypres were definitely not to my taste and I did not like massive florals or 80s stinkers – others confused me, some left me cold, a couple were interesting but difficult and one or two were pretty.

But one made me come back again and again to sniff the bottle and then the inside of my wrist where I had sprayed it: L’Heure Bleue. It was strange and just a little magical, wonderful and very grown-up. It did confuse me, I couldn’t say ‘this smells of x y and z’, as Luca Turin did in his reviews and when I read the notes listed, I could smell no particular iris, violet, heliotrope or carnation. Instead, I had an impression of melancholy, face powder and a ladylike, delightful deliciousness, an edibleness like a rich almond pastry with a creamy vanilla custard filling. It hypnotised me and fascinated me and I was hooked.

If you haven’t yet got around to trying L’Heure Bleue I strongly recommend you do. Persuade the sales assistant at the Guerlain counter to pull out the beautiful little bottle with the heart-shaped stopper from under the counter and try it, I beg you. Failing that, somehow get your paws on a sample of this rare gem. It is pensive, complex and gently intelligent, utterly unlike the modern watery vanilla/ thin floral/fruitichouili things that are being pushed at consumers nowadays. This remarkable perfume celebrated its one hundredth birthday last year, and like so many delightful Centegenarians, it still has powerful charm and character, which is no bad thing.

Balmain Jolie Madame: A Scent for All Seasons

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Jolie Madame by Pierre Balmain was created in 1953 by Germaine Cellier and has an immediate old fashioned glamour. Cellier knew what she was doing. Her other fragrances, Bandit  and Fracas (both for Robert Piguet) are still standing today as revered classics. When you think how many fragrances have been and gone over the years, that’s a pretty big achievement.

The more I have delved into Aldehydes and Woody Chypres on my colourful perfume journey, the more I have appreciated them. Jolie Madame seems to be the very pinnacle of a perfect Woody Chypre, almost prickling and crackling with its rough and beautiful Oakmoss and Galbanum.

I am a huge fan of both Green Notes and Hesperides, and yet I have been venturing a lot into Leather recently (but enough about my marriage *ahem*). To find a fragrance that encapsulates all my favourites in one scent has thrilled me. Firstly, Jolie Madame opens with Green Notes, including the stems and leaves. Petitgrain and Oakmoss, give it a woody, leafy opening. Then the Bergamot makes it presence felt, giving the woodiness some airy freshness at the same time, like a walk in a forest after a downpour. It smells like mossy, wet earth under damp bracken. There is a slight powderiness, in the form of chalk, or maybe it’s the Gardenia making me think of the colour white. This fades into a Green and Smoky Leather finish that lingers, delighting with whiffs of Violet and a whisper of White Musk throughout the day.

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It is perfectly put together and utterly delightful. It’s my one stop shop when I can’t choose between a Green Note scent, a Woody Chypre, a Hesperide or a Leather. Jolie Madame gives me everything I want..

It is the antithesis of modern High Street scents and its price tag is surprisingly reasonable. This may have to be one of my rare full bottles. It’s currently around 30GBP abottle, even less on eBay. It has great lasting power,  and is well worth its reasonable price. On me, this lasts around six or seven hours. I can’t get my nose off my wrist. It’s outrageously good.

If I was forced to narrow my treasured perfume collection into only two bottles, it would be Vol de Nuit and Jolie Madame. That kind of covers all bases for me. A joy!

Yesterday I discovered Balmain. And it was a good, good day.

Chanel No 22 : Smothered By A Bridal Veil

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My immediate and accusatory reaction on smelling Chanel no 22 was “Pierre Bourdon– is this your doing?” but on this occasion, my perfume Nemesis Bourdon was Not Guilty.  This is in fact the work of Errnest Beaux, and was created in 1922. It has since been relaunched as part of the Les Exclusifs line, but I am reviewing the pre relaunch version.

This is feminine, soft and pure. It’s how I imagine the colour white would smell. It has Lily and Neroli and is very heavy on the Iris. There is a metallic note in the opening too, which made me think of silver.  It has sweetness too, but the sweetness of a blooming bouquet of White Flowers into which you have fallen nose first on a hot stifling day and cannot escape from. It is, in my opinion, a little de trop. However, it has more fans than I do, so I must gracefully concede and bow to the genius of Monsiuer Beaux.

The truth is, (whisper if you dare), that I cannot bear this stuff and had to wash it off. The reason for this is something I alluded to in my introduction above. This smells way too much like my much loathed Iris Poudre by, yes you’ve guessed it, Pierre Bourdon. Now although he didn’t create Chanel no 22, it is impossible for me to believe that he had never smelled it before he rolled his sleeves up in the lab and got creative. The heavy Iris, the Musk base, the stifling sweetness- to me this equals Iris Poudre.  It is clear to me that I must one day review  Pierre Bourdon for Frederic Malle Iris Poudre (to give it its full title)   since it keeps recurring through my reviews like a baddie in a Pantomime. Watch this space.

So Chanel No 22, you’re pretty and nice, but you make me want to breathe real Oxygen and open a window.

Guerlain Vol de Nuit: The Maestro

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Vol de Nuit (Night Flight), was created in 1933 by Jacques Guerlain himself. It’s a very hard fragrance to review because it does not fall nicely into a specific genre. It is however, utterly classic and vintage and beautiful. If I had to explain perfume to an alien visiting our planet, I would just let them smell Vol de Nuit. It kind of explains what perfume is and should be.

The opening is Spicy and Aldehydic, with a nod to Bergamot and a passing wisp of Citrus Lemon. You can tell that Vol de Nuit is related to Jicky. They are first cousins, at least during Act One. Then old fashioned Powdery notes sidle in, followed by Sandalwood and spicy Carnation. Finally this marvellous radiant symphony calms down into Iris, Sandalwood, Violets and Musk, but still hangs on to the Carnation spice and slightly bitter Orris Root, so earthy and pungent.

This lasts and changes and evolves. It has been on my wrist all day and never left me. It is, quite frankly, a classic of the fragrance world and to leave this out of the Greats would be like leaving Mozart out of a classical music Hall of Fame.

You can tell that Vol de Nuit comes from the same family as the other Heritage Guerlains, Jicky (1889) and Mitsouko (1919). I sometimes have problems with both since I haven’t yet trained my modern, sanitised nostrils to adjust themselves as necessary. Both need to be smelled within the context of their time in order for their greatness to be appreciated. However the slightly later Vol de Nuit (1933), is instantly accessible today and by far my favourite Guerlain.

You could call it Oriental as it certainly has spice. You could call it an Aldehyde: after all, it’s Green and Earthy and Tingly. You could call it a Floral: replete with Narcissus  Iris, Carnation and Violet. Or you could call it one of the most beautiful and versatile fragrances of all time, if you are me.

There are a lot of perfume houses around today that could learn a thing or to at the knee of Grande Dame Vol de Nuit. When I wear it, I want to don fox fur and red lipstick and smoke cigarettes, but being a kind non smoker, I will just have to settle for the red lipstick. Wearing this transports me from stressy normal life and makes me want to be enigmatic and silent at the the bar of the Hotel Meurice until handsome men buy me drinks.

Vol de Nuit. Night Flight. The scent of your dreams.

Vera Wang Lovestruck Floral Rush: Nothing to See Here, Move Along…

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Vera Wang Lovestruck Floral Rush is Vera Wang Lovestruck with the volume turned up and a squoosh more synthetic musk. It doesn’t last very long. I have been using a 1.2 ml sample today and it ran out at lunchtime.

I smelt the original Vera Wang Lovestruck at a beauty counter recently and had almost no reaction to it. The impact was mild. It’s another light floral. There’s lots of them around right now. I went about my business as if nothing had happened. The day I wore Cinnabar and Lanvin Rumeur, to name but two, I couldn’t get my nose from my wrist. When I tried Lovestruck Floral Rush, I guess I was left waiting for it to live up to its name. There’s nothing new here. This is pulp fiction for the modern perfume consumer.

It sounds very glamorous with its top note of Champagne Darling, and it’s Passion Flower and Marigold. The base claims to be Cashmere Woods, Musk and White Amber. However, whilst I did catch some synthetic and rather cheap smelling Musk, I would still describe this as a light  modern floral whose only USP is it’s fabric sprig on the lid.

Vera Wang is globally famous for her exquisite bridal gowns and I can see that this simple and inoffensive  scent (I’m trying not to say bland) would be a good bridal fragrance since it would neither offend or dominate. But sometimes I WANT to offend and dominate, dammit!

Lovestruck Floral Rush– wear and conform. Zzzz.

Vivienne Westwood Anglomania: Ladylike and Slutty.

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This is an interesting one. Like all my favourite fragrances, this is one of those scents that changes as you wear it, rather than staying static. When I first applied this, I thought little of it, then glibly dismissed it as a smell-a-like of Gres Caberet i.e another Rose Musk. Pretty but nothing to email home about. How wrong I was. Well not totally, as it IS a sort of Rose Musk.

Vivienne Westwood Anglomania has a trick up its perfumed Kimono sleeve. I sprayed some on my skin and some got on my clothes as I did so. As the day wore on, the Musk emerged, as did a hint of pretty and old fashioned flora: Rose and Peony. How very ladylike, I thought to myself. However, as it wore off on my skin and warmed up on my clothes, I realised that this begins to smell intimate and a bit…well…private. This is not in the knicker gusset league of Worth’s Courtesan, it’s more an impression of being too physically close to someone you don’t know very well. There’s a slight bit of discomfort, with a shiver of the forbidden.

The Musk smells like you accidentally stuck your nose in someone’s cleavage and although you feel terribly awkward and British about it, a dark and secret part of you enjoyed it. The Musk suggests closeness to skin, intimacy, as if the wearer is gently breathing down your neck or leaning over you. And this is the secret that Anglomania has up its camisole. It’s pretty and ladylike with a rather rude side, like a piano teacher with no knickers on.

The musk reminds me of Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre, the closeness of which I find nothing less than claustrophobic. However, Anglomania has a nice aftertaste of incense smoke, like the faint dust left behind by a spent joss stick on a cold windowsill, with a tiny pot of wilting violets next to it.

Many people get Leather notes from this, but I was not one of them. To me, this is a Floral Musk with a hint of Violets and Powder, delicate and intimate, with a dirty wink.

Rather lovely.

Jo Loves…Pink Vetiver

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A combination of Pink Pepper and Vetiver, Jo Loves…Pink Vetiver allegedly has nine different notes. I can smell two, and they are, as you might imagine, Pink Pepper and Vetiver. This is a manly, almost abrasive scent that has excellent longevity. I often find that the Law of Sod dictates that a disagreeable fragrance has excellent longevity to the point where it won’t leave you alone even after a shower, whilst favoured scents can disappear within an hour.

 Pink Vetiver is not dissimilar to an inexpensive fragrance that I bought for my husband a year ago.  Patrick Dempsey Unscripted is made by Avon, and smells rather good on him. As I suspected, the dominant note is Vetiver. Sadly, it smells scratchy and dreadful on me.

Pink Vetiver is unchanging: linear, you could say, and the spiky Vetiver just beds in and won’t go home. I’ve got my pyjamas on, I’m brushing my teeth, but Mr Vetiver just won’t get the hint. I guess I’ll just have to leave him in the dark and go to bed.

It’s not a bad fragrance at all, but if you don’t like Vetiver, you’ll never be friends with this one.