Category Archives: Scent

Thierry Mugler Angel: The Marmite of Perfumes

angel naomi Non UK readers may be unaware that Marmite spread has a love/hate ad campaign. There’s no middle ground. You either love Marmite or you hate it. Thierry Mugler Angel is the same.  Angel’s critics are as vehement as its fans.  In the perfume industry however, it is regarded as a masterpiece.  Even hard to please Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez gave it five stars in Perfumes The Guide.

In 2007, Angel was the recipient of the FiFi Hall of Fame Award, an accolade not given lightly. Sales show no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Its creator, Olivier Cresp, will be remembered more for Angel than he will for the rest of his illustrious back catalogue, which is outstanding even without the success of Angel.

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So why the hate? Well, it’s strong. It’s uncompromising. It doesn’t disappear after ten minutes and it has sillage that could floor a man at twenty paces. It is a Gourmand Patchouli of all things i.e spiky but chocolately. Caramel and Vanilla with prickles. Gourmand smells alongside Patchouli confuse my palate and make me feel like I am eating perfume or snorting food. Sensory confusion is not my thing. (I will  make an exception for Coromandel, see my earlier review)

So why the love? See above: strong, uncompromising, doesn’t disappear after ten minutes… Some people say that Angel trod the path for the popularity of Gourmands. In fact, Fragrantica lists no fewer than 24 notes for Angel, including Bergamot, Peach, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine, Melon, Roses and Blackberries- not one of which I angel flashcould detect.

When I first tried it shortly after its debut in 1992 (in the Harrods Perfume Hall no less, get me!), the displays were huge. It was the Next Big Thing. Jerry Hall, model du jour in ’92, made it her signature scent and mentioned it in all her interviews.  Everybody wanted it. Every magazine carried the ads for it.

I tried it on my wrist and walked away to consider it. What did I get? Chocolate and… Talc? Cologne? In hindsight I know it was Patchouli but did not identify it back then as a 22 year old.

I tried again a few months later: Chocolate and Caramel. I tried again no less than twenty years later. It still made me smell as if I had just finished my shift on the production line in a Thornton’s Chocolate Factory.  Big thumbs down.  And yet I regularly walk through clouds of this in pubs, on High Streets and in restaurants. I can recognise it from a mile off. Millions of women love Angel, but I’m not one of them. My husband, on smelling this, grimaced and said “Eurgh, that’s what the train smells like in the morning”.

There comes a time in life when you realise that you are outnumbered by the number of people who disagree with you and so it may well be you who is in the wrong.  However, in fragrance, as I have said before, there is no right or wrong, only your response. So my response is not wrong- I cannot bear this!  The vast cohorts of Angel fans tells me that others see this rather differently.  Its success, and the admiration of its peers, tell me that its apologists are not wrong either.   As for me: well, I don’t “get” Angel.  It’s as if the joke’s on me

angel smallIf you love this, good luck to you. If you don’t, that’s OK too.  However, I have yet to meet anyone who stands in the No Mans Land between the two camps and just says “it’s not bad, I wear it sometimes, it’s OK”.  And that, my fragrant friends, is why I call it Marmite. I would never, ever spend money on a bottle of  Thierry Mugler Angel.  And for every woman like me, there is another who swears by it and who would never, ever let herself run out of it.

EDIT: Since writing this I have become secretly obsessed with Angel and wear little samples of it around the house.  We’re definitely on flirtation terms now.  Never say never.

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Body Shop White Musk Oil: The Last Man Standing From the Long Lost Perfume Bar

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Sometimes the ageing classics get overlooked. It dawned on me that there is one perfume that I have been wearing for at least twenty five years and yet I haven’t reviewed it yet.

I first came across Body Shop White Musk at the glorious and much pined for (by me) Perfume Bar that every Body Shop used to have years ago. For those who have youth on their side and cannot remember this wonderful creation, please indulge me as I go down  Memory Lane.

In the 80s and 90s, each Body Shop had a Perfume Bar consisting of large glass jars with narrow necks, and long glass dipping sticks in each one. The jars would be on a circular stand, surrounded by eager customers, sniffing and testing. The happy bodyshop oilcustomer (i.e a younger me) would dip, dab and sniff until finding a scent she or he could not live without. The nice ladies at the counter would then fill a little plastic refillable bottle for you to take home, for a very reasonable price.

For many years I had tiny plastic 15ml and 30ml bottles of such much missed gems as Japanese Musk, Mostly Musk, and White Musk (sensing a theme?). I was not alone.  My mother loved “Annie” and always carried it in her handbag, and “Dewberry” was practically The Smell of the 80s.

Sadly all but a tiny few are discontinued, but if the Body Shop were ever to create this mirage of happiness again, I would be their most loyal customer. How I wish they would bring it back.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Rex Features (1350527r) Anita Roddick of the Body Shop Various
 Photo by Rex Features (1350527r)
Anita Roddick of the Body Shop
Various

This review is for White Musk Oil. You will see that it is not for the White Musk EDT, Sheer spray, or for any of its flankers such as Libertine.  I find them all too light and fleeting. White Musk Oil has a particular staying power that I have not encountered with the EDT or flankers, or in fact any of today’s Body Shop fragrances.  A dab of White Musk Oil on the neck, crook of elbow and wrist and you are set up for an entire day.

It’s subtle enough not to offend in a small office, and lasting enough not to have to top up in the day.  One of my favourite things about this oil is that a 30ml bottle lasts me a year.  The Body Shop website often has half price offers on, which can make this even more of a bargain.

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So what of the fragrance itself? Well according to the Body Shop website, this has notes of Lily, Iris, Rose and Vanilla. Personally I get Musk and maybe a very faint background of Lily, but no Rose or Vanilla and no cold hearted Iris.

I am shameless about never having grown out of it. Many people see it as student perfume they have left behind, but I have had more misty eyed compliments about this than about any other perfume I have ever worn.

The Good Old Days- photo from youbeauty.com
The Good Old Days- photo from youbeauty.com

I often forget I’m wearing it and spray another fragrance over the top, but I find this just makes both fragrances smell even better. It’s close to skin: people will get a waft when you hug them or lean over them, but they won’t faint like dominoes when you get in the lift.

You may well find a man sniffing nostalgically to himself and remembering his first girlfriend though.

This is proof, if proof were needed, that you don’t need big bucks to smell good.

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Jo Malone Orange Blossom for Men And Women: Refreshing Simplicty

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Jo Malone is often lauded as being  the perfume brand for people who don’t like perfume. You can see why. With notes found in nature, the brand is typified by its perennial favourite Lime, Basil and Mandarin.  Many perfume fans who can’t bear Aldehydes, Synthetics or Chypres, can stay in their comfort zone with Jo Malone.  Quality is indisputable. Longevity is variable, but that could be true of any brand.

This review is about Jo Malone Orange Blossom.  The beauty of this fragrance is that it does what it says on the tin. You wanted Orange Blossom? You’ve got it. It doesn’t mess around or try and get fancy with Vanilla and Blueberries or Musks, or add soapy Aldehydes you didn’t ask for.  It’s honest.

Although Fragrantica states that this also contains Lilac, Lemon and  Lotus, all I got was rather heady Orange Blossom, with a bright Citrus Orange kick. In my opinion  this is Linear, that is, it’s a one note wonder: unchanging as it lasts throughout the hours.  This is no bad thing, after all, the clue is in the title. It does not mislead, trick or change once you’ve got it on.  Orange Blossom is a strong White Flower note which is often paired with Tuberose.  Both are feminine, clean notes, but both have a headiness and richness bordering on the creamy, and some might say, cloying.

Orange Blossom Jo Malone, however, is light and clean, almost a nod to Eau de Colognes, but it is long lasting, clean smelling, and can be worn all year round. It’s also unisex, and would smell great on the right man, brave enough to shrug off the High Street Miasma and take a bit of nature into the office.

Jo Malone was bought by Estee Lauder in 1999. Jo herself remained at the helm until 2006 when she left to pursue her own interests  Funnily enough, it turned out that she hadn’t quite finished with fragrance after all and her new range Jo Loves is available from her website, and still has the respect of critics (and beauty bloggers).

For an honest, clean, Citrussy Floral, you can’t go wrong with Orange Blossom Jo Malone. It’s a refreshing change from scents with 42 gazillion notes that confuse the poor brain.  Sometimes, simplicity is in order, and it is very welcome.

Serge Lutens Chergui: Smoke and Velvet in a Dark Corner

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It took me three attempts to “get” Serge Lutens Chergui  but when I did, it was worth the journey.  My first attempt left me thinking “meh, Patchouli again!”, my second was, bizarrely, “Raw Pot Noodle or Soup Powder” (Don’t ask, no idea), and finally, on a third attempt, it dawned on me that this is actually as beautiful as everyone says.

I was starting to think it was a case of Emperor’s New Clothes and that I “should” like it, just so I wouldn’t be the odd one out. But no, it truly is the real thing. The Patchouli is high pitched but stops just before being eye watering (Amouage Jubilation could have stopped around this stage instead of becoming an asthmatics nightmare).  There is smoky incense, but not quite cigarette smoke, more a hint of pipe tobacco or aromatic dustiness.  After about an hour I had a memory of a shop I had long forgotten.  In my student days in Exeter, Devon, there was a marvellous shop in Cathedral Close that sold dried flowers. The shop was full of products from nature and everything was dried.  I think it was called Hay Fever. The smell of dried flowers, Hay, Papery Leaves and hessian sacks of Pot Pourri was arrestingly gorgeous. That smell drifted up from Chergui and took me back there so vividly.  I checked the notes, and there it is: Hay.

There are supposedly notes of Iris and Rose in Chergui  but I didn’t get any floral or petal notes.  This is a very masculine scent, although designed to be feminine or unisex.  It’s dry and non girly and non frilly. It’s  a serious contender, maybe too much for the office or casual wear. It would be like wearing a floor length black velvet coat on a commuter train. Very beautiful indeed, but in the wrong place, impact is lost.

It may sound expensive, at over £70 a bottle, but it lasts so long that used sparingly and kept correctly, it could last well over a year, especially if you have other fragrances in your scent wardrobe.

It’s darkly glamorous, rich and aromatic, long lasting and mysterious. It’s after-hours seductive. Wear Serge Lutens Chergui to a Jazz Club at 2 in the morning. Wear it on a first date.  But only if you want a second date.

Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass: Still Going Strong After 79 Years

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 Named after the Blue Grass of Virginia and created in 1934, Elizabeth Arden’s first fragrance is, in my opinion, rather better than her later, modern offerings. You can keep Sunflowers,  Splendor,  Red Door and Green Tea. I’ll just take the Golden Oldie thanks.

 My grandmother wore Blue Grass and always smelled good. This was her “treat” perfume. I couldn’t resist buying a bottle recently. The formulation has certainly changed some, as I remember Nanna’s bottle smelling more powdery and yet sharper at the same time.

At first spray, this is strongly aldehydic. Aldehydes are chemicals used in soaps and detergents and they are often characterised by a high pitched, soapy scent. First by Van Cleef and Arpels is a textbook example: it has a definite whiff of Palmolive in among the greenery, which is no bad thing at all in my book.

Blue Grass contains a big hit of green Fairy Liquid before retiring into an interesting Lavender, Carnation, and Geranium hybrid. One reviewer said it reminded them of Guerlain Jicky, and that was like a revelation to me. I didn’t get on with Jicky, but I am quite enamoured by Blue Grass. There are definite notes in common: Lavender, Jasmine, Bergamot and Sandalwood to name but a few. However, I find Blue Grass fresher and more vital than Jicky: sharper and more astringent. Blue Grass also has spice, and by that I mean spicy flowers such as Carnation and Geranium, rather than Nutmeg or Cinnamon. In fact, for about five minutes after you spray it, the soapy Carnations throw a loud party, before they calm down and behave themselves.

Ideal for a hot cleavage in stifling weather, this would be great kept in the fridge. To me, this is like a sharp eau de cologne, and being a fan of Hesperides, I’m thrilled to have found this. For a mere £6 from my local Wilkinson, this not only proves that classics can be had for a song, but also proves that you can find an old classic in unlikely places. You might have gone in for some Febreze and a new flask, but you will come out smelling zingy, with a hint of subtle powder.

Some reviewers compare this to the smell of air freshener in a urinal, or liquid soap in public toilets. They’re not wrong, (that’ll be the aldehydes) but to someone who longs for the day a perfume smells like Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, this is right up my street.

Acqua Di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Arancia di Capri: Can I just call you Blu?

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When I tried Elizabeth Arden Mediterranean (see yesterday’s review) I was disappointed. What I was actually wishing for was the smell that is Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Arancia di Capri It’s a hell of a mouthful, so I’ll just call it Blu Mediterraneo.

I hadn’t tried this before today, but so disappointed was I with yesterday’s fragrance that I needed an antidote. And I found it. Full of Sicilan Orange, Bergamot and Lemon, this is just my glass of Chianti. Sniffing away happily, I was convinced that this contains Marine Notes, but no, it doesn’t  In fact it made me ask myself why sharp oranges make me think of refreshing sea spray and the bluest of seas under the bluest of cloudless skies. Maybe its the Bergamot or the overall Citrus, but this made me visualise a  balcony overlooking all that blue sea and sky, probably with some sort of Orange Grove nearby.

Interestingly, Fragrantica has Caramel listed a base note. This is a mistake. Not by Fragrantica, but by any perfumer that  feels the need to add a Fudge Shop to a Mediterranean idyll. Luckily, I couldn’t smell that note, or I’d have been very disappointed.

Longevity is a bit on the short side, but when freshly sprayed, this is almost unbeatable as a sea spray/citrussy summer scent, along the lines of Clarins Eau Dynamisante. I am also relieved to report that there are no Aquatic, Melon, Cucumber or Ozonic notes to wrestle with. As much as I love a Marine scent, I have never taken to Aquatics or Oceanics. Yes, I know I am pedantic.

 Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Arancia di Capri comes in several varieties, and is easily available: a quick search found it on both Amazon and eBay. As well as Arancia di Capri, there is Fico di Amalfi, and Mirto di Panarea. I haven’t smelt these, but if you ever come across them, I’d say they were worth a sniff.

It’s not cheap at around £63 for 75ml, but it’s much cheaper than a holiday (am I a bad influence?) and the price could have been a lot worse for such high quality.

Blu Meditteraneo is right up my street, my cup of tea, my glass of Frascati.  Ice cold, of course. Now that I have this on my wrist I am suddenly SO over Winter.

Elizabeth Arden Mediterranean: Oops A Daisy!

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Call me superficial but I was drawn to this by the beautiful blue glass and silver lid and tempting advertising campaign. For design and marketing, Elizabeth Arden Mediterranean gets ten out of ten. The image alone makes me imagine freshly sliced oranges, bougainvillea, sunshine and sea spray.

I was therefore hoping for a fragrance that matched those expectations. For example, I love bitter orange  or lemon in a scent and love how a citrus note can cut though the heat on a hot day.  Ô de Lancome  is a perfect example. However, I was very disappointed with Mediterranean and here’s why:

It’s as if they nearly had a fresh, pretty scent for a summer’s day but then added Musk and Peaches. Still feminine but a little on the sweet side, decisions were being made on the final formula when someone split a  cup of Latte over their wrist as they were smelling it. “That’s good, let’s keep that in” they said, and so it was.

What we have now is a musky, peachy, sweet and fluffy perfume with a hint of milky coffee in it. Not at all what I was expecting or hoping for.  Longevity is every poor too. On me it was half an hour. After mingling with the long lasting hoi polloi this week (waving across the room to Coromandel and Cuir Mauresque, see previous reviews)), poor longevity makes me feel cheated, even at this very reasonable price. Look at Body Shop White Musk Oil for instance. It’s currently £11 for 30ml of oil, lasts twelve hours on me and the bottle itself lasts me over six months. Longevity can be had at low prices.

They had the name, they had the packaging, they had the image, but the actual fragrance was lost in a big messy old mess.

Turns out I can forgive Elizabeth Arden though, as they created Blue Grass. Arden is an affordable High Street brand, but I am getting disappointed more frequently by their more modern offerings. This is one of them.  High hopes dashed.  Sorry Meditteranean, I’ll pass.

Chanel Les Exclusifs Coromandel: Milky Bars and Old Stone

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I tried Coromandel reluctantly, having read that there were hints of White Chocolate in it. If anything is designed to put me off a scent it’s the smell of the kind of stuff I wipe off my hands all day (I have a three year old). I also read there were Patchouli notes and that it was an Oriental. Sounds good to me, I thought, apart from the choc. But I will always sniff an Oriental, with open arms and a flaring nostril.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was very taken with her Chinese lacquered screens, and in tribute to these, Coromandel was created in 2007. Indeed there is a definite mysterious Eastern vibe going on here, but still in the back of my mind was the nervous question “When will it smell of Milky Bar?”

At first spray, the Patchouli is strong and musty. Perfume gives me very visual impressions, often at random. The immediate visual that Coromandel gave me was of a bar in Krakow that I visited  around fifteen years ago. Until I smelt Coromdanel, I had completely forgotten about this bar. As you may know, Krakow is a very ancient town and this wine bar was no exception. It was accessed via a flight of stairs going down into the basement and the walls were solid ancient stone, like a castle dungeon. It gave off one of my favourite smells: old stone. I adore that musty smell that is both damp and dusty at the same time. I can safely say that Coromandel’s Patchouli is of the ancient musty old stone genre. And I love it.

There are floral notes too: Rose, of which there is a hint, Jasmine which I couldn’t find, and Orange Blossom which didn’t turn up.

The White Chocolate did turn up shortly afterwards with a “Sorry I’m late” and it was very polite and sat down quietly at the back. The milkiness calms the Patchouli down and makes it very addictive and soft. Staying power is tenacious. Bad luck if you don’t like it, because you’ll need an Eviction Notice and a Bailiff to get rid of this one. Longevity kind of compensates for price: £200 for 200ml.

Coromandel was created as part of the Chanel Les Exclusifs Range. They weren’t kidding either. You’ll buy hen’s teeth and unicorn droppings off Lord Lucan before you can get your mitts on this stuff. Do they care at Chanel? Not a jot. They’re just playing hard to get to make you want it more.

It worked.

Shiseido Feminite du Bois: Le Jardin du Lady

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It’s that Pierre Bourdon again. Every time he makes a perfume I end up disliking it intensely. It’s not personal; he just creates smells that I don’t want to smell like.

Shiseido Feminite du Bois is highly regarded and coveted by many as a warm Oriental. Which is quite right and proper and it is indeed how it begins on me. In fact it is a perfectly crafted woody spicy fragrance, full of depth and heat. It has an almost sour note in the heart, which is beautifully earthy, like freshly turned soil, and then it warms up even more to smell like ancient wood in a church pew, infused with a hint of musky incense.

However, and I’m not quite sure how to put this delicately (although I did try a Franglais euphemism-see title): this smells like a gusset. A non clean one. It smells like knickers smell on the walk of shame with party shoes in hand as the sun comes up.  There. I’ve said it.

Funnily enough, I had exactly the same response to Worth Courtesan. I thought “Mm that smells very feminine”, and then after about half an hour, “What’s that smell? I have to wash NOW!” Guess who was responsible for that little gem? Yes, Pierre Bourdon. Similarly, Iris Poudre. Within minutes I was washing it off. Pierre’s handiwork again. That rascal!

Now it goes without saying that “Gusset” will never be a note listed on the Mighty Fragrantica, but I at least looked for Civet notes or an Animalic accord. Nothing. Zip. Nada.  So either this only happens to me and me alone, OR it happens to lots of other people who can’t quite pin down the exact suspect note in question.  OR lots of people get this but like it and shut up about it.

Personally, I don’t want the smell of a musky knicker gusset on my arm, so after using a little bit of this kindly loaned bottle, I will be returning it with enormous thanks that the list of very tempting notes didn’t lead me to buy it blind.

This is a textbook example of a perfume I love that doesn’t love me back. I long for that first magical half hour again, but it’s not returning my calls.

Marks and Spencer Per Una Originale For Women: Haven’t We Met Someplace Before?

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Marks and Spencer is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the High Street Fragrance Wars.  Lyn Harris of Miller Harris fame has climbed on board and produced a remarkable range at a reasonable price. Roger and Gallet are also to be found on their shelves, as are Fragonard, with their exquisite packaging.  Sadly, and apologies for the anti climax, none of the aforementioned ranges have reached my local branch. Sadface.  There’s a still a good selection though, if you keep walking past choky, cloying Florentyna.

I have it on good authority that Per Una Exquisite smells almost exactly like the much missed Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs. Autograph New York is a fresh floral with gourmand vanilla basenotes.  It’s also no secret that Marks and Spencer Isis smells very similar to Issy Miyake L’Eau D’Issey, the ozonic fragrance hit of the Nineties.

This review is for Per Una Originale Eau de Toilette. Although Per Una Originale  is not a dupe or a copy, I  could not help noticing that it is very similar to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely.  Here’s what the M and S website says “Flowers of magnolia, jasmine, rose and summer freesias mingle with a sensuous background of woods, heliotrope and patchouli to give added depth.”

Just like Lovely, the opening is all fresh, light flowers, no Tuberose, nothing too heady, followed by a background of Patchouli to give it that slightly Fresh Spicy accord. It is hard to point out the differences as they are so slim. I think Lovely has the edge though, certainly on longevity. Prices are good for Per Una Originale, starting at £4 for a 10ml purse spray: a good way to try before investing in a big bottle. However, at £12 for a 50ml bottle, you wouldn’t have to sell your house to afford it. Looking online, current offers include buy one get one half price, so you may as well buy a few different ones to test. Any excuse…

I have bought a 10ml bottle which is the perfect size for my handbag. It is slightly more floral than Lovely (more Magnolia and Rose), but a very close contender: a pleasant fresh fragrance with a resonant Patchouli-Lite base.

Affordable, accessible, and a wide enough range to avoid smelling like everyone else, Marks and Spencer have got it right.