Tag Archives: best niche fragrances

Ruth Mastenbroek Oxford: Students, Spires and Smoke

rmf_oxford_50ml_edp_web

An explosion of fresh, green, basil and peppery notes bursts from a herbal heart of clary sage with sensuous jasmine; vanilla, amberwood, and oudh bring a cashmere texture to the base.

Oxford (the fragrance) was inspired by those heady student days when you leave home for the first time and everything feels edgy, daring and slightly scary.   Its creator, Ruth Mastenbroek, read Chemistry at Oxford in 1970., hence the name.    I went to Exeter University, not Oxford ( couldn’t get in!) , but I can recall that butterflies-in-the-tummy excitement in the blink of an eye, and this fragrance  encapsulates those halcyon student days.

photo of naked man on the banks of the River Thames, Oxford by Paddy Summerfield
photo of naked man on the banks of the River Thames, Oxford by Paddy Summerfield

Oxford opens with Clary Sage, which I often mistake for lavender.  Clary Sage is no weakling: it is robust and muscly and borders on the smell of weed or filter-less cigarettes.   Cigarette smoke played a huge part in my student memories, and from this scent, I’m guessing it did for Ruth too.   That’s not to say this smells unpleasant: far from it- but there’s a brash masculine, herbal feel to it that reminded me of bristly chins and smoky  late night adventures.

The clary sage mixes with woods and oudh and to my nose, this has a sort of unfinished roughness, again- no bad thing.  It’s that unfinished shape that your student years  form you into.  You think you’re fully formed but you’re nothing like the finished product that you need to be.  Not yet.

RM-im_3
Ruth Mastenbroek

When the herbs and woods have settled down, this leaves a beautiful and very long-lasting impression in its wake.   The clary sage smells more like lavender now, and there’s a heady herbal thing going on (man).  Patchouli stays put like a slightly unwashed squatter.  If you want squeaky clean and generic, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Oxford goes from rough and dirty, to clean and earthy, like the morning after, as you walk home to birdsong after a long dark night of excess.  It grew and grew on me like a persistent suitor, and  has now become my favourite scent from Ruth’s collection.   Oxford has changing facets, like a kaledoscope, and that’s just one of the many things I love about it.

About Ruth

Ruth and her new friend Sam.
Ruth and her new friend Sam.

Ruth Mastenbroek has been making fragrance and fragrant products for far longer than you may realise. Her signature range only has three fragrances, yet Ruth was the brains behind many of the Bath House products and has worked on scented candles for Jo Malone, as well as being a former President of the British Society of Perfumers.

Complete the trilogy

I have previously reviewed Ruth’s RM Signature fragrance, and the wonderful Amorosa. Today I am competing my trilogy.

From the Times Educational Supplement
From the Times Educational Supplement

Stockists

RM Oxford is available from the Ruth Mastenbroek website and from Fenwick and Rouiller White.

Disclaimer

My sample was kindly provided by Ruth, for which, many thanks. Opinions are my own and this is not a sponsored post. In fact, I’ve never written a sponsored post!

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Aedes de Venustas Pelargonium

pelargonium

Have you ever smelled a perfume that’s so good it makes you want to write a love song about how much you love it?  A scent that shoots you in the heart like cupid?  A scent that makes the need to own it feel more powerful than lust?

Welcome to Aedes de Venustas Pelargonium.

A pelargonium is a member of the geranium family and has bright velvety petals as vivid as a flame. This flower is more or less the main star in this fragrance, but the supporting cast makes this unforgettably wonderful.

It opens with clary sage and lime. The herby clary sage note complements the peppery petals of the pelargonium until it gives me a vivid image of an English country garden on a cool damp day.  The herby floral accord makes me think of very expensive soap- the kind that makes your bathroom smell like an unaffordable hotel suite. The musk is an almost iris-like musk with its muted, classy subtlety,  yet it is unmistakable and lingers on long after the citrus opening has bloomed and faded.

photo by www. gardensonline.com.au
photo by www. gardensonline.com.au

There is allegedly a carrot note in here somewhere, but unless I’m mistaking one root for another, it comes across as more iris like, which as you know, can smell earthy and rooty.

The base is guaiac wood, vetiver and moss, giving enhancement to the earthiness that peeks out in the middle phase. The oakmoss adds a touch of damp greens, which only makes me fall for it harder. I’ve always found geraniums to smell faintly medicinal, and this facet is showcased with touches of elemi, often used in cough syrup and medicines.  Don’t let this put you off, there’s no TCP note here, more of a clove/violet thing going on.

The Aedes de Venustas range at Shy Mimosa perfumery, Bristol
The Aedes de Venustas range at Shy Mimosa perfumery, Bristol

This is primarily a floral, but it’s as if each facet of the pelargonium scent has been given a partner to showcase its talents and double its impact.  Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer is a genius and I will be her fan forever.

This is the fragrance I will buy for myself when I get that novel published (and I will).

Stockists

Aedes de Venustas Pelargonium is available from Selfridges at £210. My novel will have to be a bestseller I guess.   My sample was a kind gift from  Aspects beauty PR, for which, many thanks.  Opinions are my own.

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FiFi 2017 Winner: MB Perfumes Black Osmanthus by Marina Barcenilla

MB-Parfums-Perfume-Bottle-F

If you’re in a  floaty peony sort of mood, I’m afraid you’ve come out of the wrong lift.  But if you’re looking for Black Osmanthus,  follow that woman with the black lipstick.  Follow her into that unmarked door with the smoky jazz  drifting out of it.   You’ll find what you’re looking for in there.

mb parfums all

Black Osmanthus by Marina Barcenilla won this year’s Fragrance Foundation Award for Best Independent Perfume, and I for one, was jolly pleased.  It’s not just because Marina does everything herself, including sourcing the absolutes and extracts that she makes her potent potions with, but because Black Osmanthus is not your usual dab it on after a shower and wear it to work fragrance.  Black Osmanthus breaks the mould and gives a rude salute ,  which appeals to the rebel in me  that so often, by necessity, gets supressed.

Osmanthus is the name for a genre of around 30 types of blossoming plants. Petals are usually white and the scent is likened to fruity, leathery blossom, often with apricot or peachy cadences.

Black Osmanthus is heavy, leathery, smoky and to my nose at least, has a hint of gorgeous creosote, like a freshly painted fence.  This is by no means a criticism- creosote is one of my favourite scents ever.

sam and marina
Marina Barcenilla at the FiFis. She let me hold her award for the photo. I am planning to steal it.

Black Osmanthus opens with all the subtlety of an Avon Lady knocking your door down with a sledgehammer.  On my skin, it takes me straight into smoky, leathery tar territory and I pretty much stay there.  I should tell you that Marina wore this the night of her win and in a room full of fume heads wearing their favourite scents, this beautiful smoked leather was distinct and true throughout the evening.

Black+Osmanthus (1)

This is made from layers of leathery notes: There’s rich saffron stamens, dark patchouli, almost sticky in its depth,  bay rum and myrrh.

The flowers are, if you’ll pardon the pun, no shrinking violets: there’s tuberose and jasmine and they’re not dainty.  The oakmoss sits with the other tough guys and makes this the ultimate dark, leathery spicy scent for those who have been seeking exactly this.  It reminds me of those little vials of Middle Eastern attar with its amber juice that let the fumes escape like snakes.

Lasting power is fantastic.  Spray at dawn and enjoy wafts of it until dusk.  And then stay up all night.

Further reading  Check out Stephan Matthews excellent review here.

Stockists  You can buy Black Osmanthus samples from the MB Parfums website, but beware, this may lead to a full bottle and you will have to get used to telling strangers what you’re wearing.

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Gallivant Tel Aviv: The Gorgeous Underbelly of a City

tel_aviv_bottle

You may have read my recent review of London from new perfume house Gallivant founded by Nick Steward.

photo from www.visit-tel-aviv.com

I would never have thought that Tel Aviv would have ended up as a fragrance to love, but it really is.  Out of the four, I think it is my favourite.   My preconceptions were way out of kilter: I was imagining concrete and bombsites and traffic.  Hardly a premise for a fragrance, right?  Not for the first or last time where fragrance is concerned, I was wrong.  Wrong with a capital “W.”

Tel Aviv (the fragrance) made me think of open air markets selling melons and flowers.  It evokes a blue sky and greenery and big blousy flowers and fluffy clouds.  It’s poetic  and whimsical and not at all how I imagined. It’s irresistibly optimistic and reminded me that every city has a fluffy tummy if you make it roll over for you.

photo from www.tripadvisor.com
photo from www.tripadvisor.com

Tel Aviv opens with bergamot and oranges, giving a citrussy blast of sunshine and freshness. The middle blends into roses, jasmine and beautiful, light freesia. The freesia and roses are particularly prominent, but the citruses in the opening stick around, giving this a beautiful airy and pretty feel.  It’s irresistibly feminine.

The base adds a sort of sugar free sweetness in so far as there are touches of vanilla without any of the sticky sweetness that can sometimes happen. The base is sandalwood, benzoin and deer tongue, or liatrix, also known as wild vanilla (thank you Fragrantica, you fount of all knowledge, you!).

Tel Aviv is bright and summery and lightly floral and pretty.  It’s the exact opposite of how I would expect a scent called Tel Aviv to smell, but Gallivant is all about going off the beaten the track. It’s more Lonely Planet than Thomas Cook and thank goodness for that. This is the pretty underbelly of a sunny, seaside city, and not the busy towering, skyscraper beehive we see on the news.

Forgive me for sounding like a tourist brochure when I say take a closer look at Tel Aviv.

Stockists

You can buy Tel Aviv from the Gallivant website.  My sample was kindly sent to me by the Gallivant team, for which many thanks. Opinions are my own.

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Exploring a New Perfume House: Gallivant London

london gallivant

It’s a wet spring. Roses from Columbia Rd. Georgian architecture. A hint of dustiness. An earthy lush wetness you can almost taste.

Gallivant is a new niche fragrance brand with a capsule collection of four city inspired scents.  Gallivant is the brainchild of Nick Steward, who is perfectly placed to go solo having been Product and Creative Director at the legendary L’Artisan Parfumeur.  Gallivant aims to embody a sense of adventure and exploration.  Each scent seeks to capture the spirit of the city after which it has been named, and I don’t mean just the pretty touristy bits.  The noses behind the range are Karine Chevallier and Giorgia Navarra.

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Me outside an NCP car park in Soho prior to gallivanting around posh Knightsbridge. A city of contrasts.

Surprisingly, this collection also put me ina position I’d never thought I’d find myself in: I’ve been gallivanting around my home county of Torfaen smelling like Tel Aviv.  Who knew?  Reader, I love it. Today I’m reviewing London. The other three will follow: Istanbul, Brooklyn and Tel Aviv.

Gallivant London

London the fragrance opens with cucumber and roses on my skin.  Don’t be put off by the cucumber- it doesn’t remind me of teenage spot treatment and cleanser in this context.  Gallivant London is Inspired by the flower market of Columbia Road. The rose de mai flourishes from the first spray and sticks around throughout. Touches of leather come through- funnily enough, a smell I often associate with London, especially the market on Petticoat Lane.

columbia

This leathery rose pretty much stays as a leathery rose, but the cucumber melts away, having made its introduction.  Enter stage left a pleasant earthy woodiness in the form of patchouli, cedar and sandalwood. That rose never waivers though, which gives this a pleasing juxtaposition of male and female, soft and hard, gentle and tough. In other words, a perfect capture of this eclectic and multi faceted city.

banksy
Poodle Guard Dog by Banksy, from visitlondon.com

Stockists

London is available from the Gallivant website and in the USA, from Luckyscent.  My samples were very kindly sent to me by Gallivant, for which, many thanks. Opinions are my own.

4160 Tuesdays Ealing Green

fragrantica
4160 Tuesdays

 

Sometimes when I want to really get a feel for a fragrance, I decant a few drops on a scarf which I drape over my bedroom door.  If I like it every time I go into my bedroom (usually with a pile of laundry… we’re not that sort of blog), then I know I properly, really truly like it.

So it was with 4160 Tuesdays Ealing Green.  I like green scents, always have, so if its got Green in the title, I’ll be interested.

Ealing Green, like all 4160 Tuesday scents has a lovely back-story which I will duplicate in full from the 4160 Tuesday website.

 “I’d long wanted to make a scent for Ealing, my adopted home. I met my husband at Ealing Studios on Ealing Green, at a wedding. Then I was invited to make a midsummer scent for a charity evening, using plants and flowers named in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I combined the two ideas and created the scent of Ealing Green on a summer evening, but in the early 17th Century.” Sarah McCartney.

You can smell the grass and the thyme notes that are listed and the scent reminds me of maypoles and monks and madrigals.  This is a very clean scent and I was surprised there was no mint there, but that could have been my mind playing tricks on me with the  zingy herbal grass and thyme.  This takes refreshing to another level altogether, although it stops short of being astringent.  I also love the  quite distinct whiff of violets, which I adore in fragrance.  The whole shebang ends up in a happy mélange of  my beloved oakmoss, some roses and the very faintest hint of earth like  damp knees from a  picnic.

Ealing Green lasts around six to seven hours on me and despite it being a deliciously pure and summery scent, it also goes very well on ice cold skin in modern day ice cold Wales.  It is now all over my favourite scarf and the scent has lasted days on fabric. Ealing Green has done many a school run in the past few days, and has made these chilly mornings a little more bearable.

Stockists

Ealing Green is very reasonably priced, starting at £6 for a 4ml splash bottle, and rising to £10 for a handbag sized 7ml bottle, £40 for 30ml, £60 for 50ml, and £90 for 100ml. When you think how much scent sells for on the High Street ( and its often same-old-same-old) , I regard this as a bargain.

You can buy 4160 Tuesdays from the website,   as well as in person from 4160 HQ ( let them know first to check they’re about),  or from Burgin’s in York, and from Rouiller White.  In the USA and Canada you can buy a selection of 4160 Tuesdays scents from Indiescents, LuckyScent and excitingly- the Virgin Atlantic website to buy before you fly.

www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk
www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk

4160 Tuesdays London 1969: A Refreshing Retro Breeze

stylus.com
stylus.com

4160 Tuesdays  has a knack of giving perfumes such great names that you’re brimming with the anticipation of a little voyage into a vignette before you even put it on.  It’s like having a pair of shoes called “Magic Carpet” or a coat called “Russian Princess”.  Immediately, life gets more interesting and fantastical through the power of suggestion.

Thus it was in merry, hippy Carnaby Street mood,with “here comes Georgie Girl” in my head, that I first tried 4160 Tuesdays London 1969. Now you may notice that certain brands have a recognition factor. This is no bad thing:  The old Guerlains have it and you can usually tell a Serge or a Tauer by its je ne sais quoi.  4160 Tuesdays has it too:  a kind of rich, woody blank canvas base that makes it recognisable…or so I thought until I tried London 1969.

Alert with zingy lemon, zesty grapefruit and a kind of lime sherbert that took me back to my childhood, London 1969 is like licking a lolly on a hot day in a floppy hat, in glorious techniclour as you mingle with the cool cats outside Biba.  No, I wasn’t around then, ( it was the year my Dad looked at my Mum in a funny way though, I was born the following year) but Sarah McCartney is the Doctor Who of perfumers: she can take you back in time and space with a mere smell.

The Dark Heart of Havana had me sipping coffee in a Cuban Pavement Café, Time to Draw The Raffle Numbers was all polished floors and marmalade in an empty church hall, and The Lion Cupboard had a whiff of peppermints, old wood and pocket fluff and made me feel pleasantly Narnia-ish.

wikipedia
wikipedia

If you like Annick Goutal Eau D’Hadrien on steroids, or O de Lancome with the volume pumped up, or Miller Harris Le Pamplemousse, then I can almost guarantee you’ll love London 1969.  And the sky will be blue, and your sunglasses big, and there will be red buses and black cabs and optimism.  It’s glorious, as is the sunshine.

London 1969 is available on the 4160 website.

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Andy Tauer Le Maroc Pour Elle: In The Beginning…

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Le Maroc Pour Elle is the first perfume that Andy Tauer launched.  Luckily for us, its success persuaded him to make more and his second perfume, L’Air Du Desert Marocain, was even more successful and is spoken of in reverent tones by many a perfume fan. The rest is history.

 Le Maroc Pour Elle was an unusual one for me.  My first impression was that it smelled like a cross between Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass and  Worth Je Reviens.   However,  and it’s a big however, when the rose kicks in, the whole puzzle really comes together and makes sense.

Within around ten minutes this smells like one of those wonderful independent shops filled with a plethora of incense and candles and tiny phials of perfumes oils and pot pourri.  It’s very BoHo, very hippie, and has a whimsical nostalgia about it.

The lavender is strong, and pervades throughout, which can sometimes give a soapy/detergent feel when used with a heavy hand, but here, it is kept in check by the roses.

The base stays light, unlike many Tauers in which the basenotes become richer and resonant in the final phase. Le Maroc Pour Elle makes me think of a retro hippy market on a summer’s day, incense is in the air, you’re wearing freshly laundered clothes and walking past a flower shop. You’ve got all the time in the world and the sky is blue.

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PS My three year old stopped what he was doing and ran across the room to say “Mum, you smell LOVELY” whilst my seven year old said “No you don’t, you stink.”

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Andy Tauer PHI Rose de Kandahar-It’s Here!

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I am an unabashed fan of Andy Tauer. That doesn’t mean I blindly love everything he does: for some reason Reverie au Jardin disagrees with me, but I’d pretty much take a Tauer scent any day of the week.

What I love about Tauers is that Andy is a one man show.  He’s not a boardroom full of shirts looking at focus groups and trends.  He doesn’t have to go through a comittee and he’s not part of a global organisation (apart from having a distribution partner).  He’s a lone wolf and that makes things very interesting right from the start.

The development of PHI Rose de Kandahar has been well documented via Andy’s blog and Facebook page and it’s finally available in the UK.  This is a limited edition as Andy’s vat of Rose de Kandaher absolute is not bottomless (hence its inclusion in the “Collectibles” range). So now I finally have my treasured sample. Was it worth it?  Oh yes.

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fragrantica.com

PHI Rose de Kandahar has a Middle Eastern richness to it. Initially it’s honeyed roses and almonds and dried apricots: it reminds me of a scented Souk. At first this edible combination was very Turkish Delight, just for a moment.  But what happens next is that it transforms into, unless I’m mistaken, something not unlike a good Arabian Oud.  I often find Oud too strong for me, but in Rose de Kandahar it’s like a robust backdrop to something altogether more delicate. The irony is that there is no Oud in it, but the combination of tobacco, ambergris, vetiver and patchouli gives this a very rich and almost prickly base.   It’s like serving an aromatic Bacchanalian feast on a rough granite table. The contrast of the rough with the smooth enhances the delicacy of the ingredients.

Here are the notes as listed on Fragrantica:

 apricot, cinnamon,
bitter almond, bergamot

Rose of Kandahar essential oil,
Bulgaria rose absolute, Bourbon geranium, dried tobacco leaves.

patchouli, vetiver, vanilla,
tonka beans, musk, ambergris.

 There is an interesting Feel Good back-story to this.  The Kandahar roses that produce this absolute were grown in Afghanistan by farmers that have been subsidised to produce roses instead of growing plants that provide the base materials for drug use (“Hungerhilfe”). In other words, Make Roses, Not Drugs.

The wonderful fragrance alone is reason enough to love this, but  add the milk of human kindness and  you have just one of the many reasons to love PHI Rose de Kandahar.

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