Monday, March 31, 2008

Etro Royal Pavillon

“White flowers” often are invoked in the descriptions of a good many white wines. Rheingau Rieslings come to mind, as do better chardonnays from Chablis and a great many Alsatian wines, particularly Pinot Blancs and Gewürztraminers. As the weather warms up, these wines begin again to adorn my dining table and, likewise, do the white florals in my fragrance wardrobe (the gardenia, paperwhite narcissus, sweet orange blossom and their voluptuous consorts, rose, iris and tuberose).

Yesterday at the Etro boutique on Madison Avenue, I was reminded of Royal Pavillon, a lovely white floral which debuted back when I was in junior high. “Elegant” and “refreshing” are the words that immediately come to mind. The perfumer (anonymous) melds floral and green notes to fine effect, conjuring up an olfactory glass house filled with blossoming plants amid respiring verdure. Gardenia assumes pride of place, but is tempered all along by a green accord. Tuberose kicks in after a few minutes on my skin, providing ample replacement for a missing bottom range. Royal Pavillon dries down to something just un peu soapy and freshly bathed, with a hint of vetiver and sheer musk.

Like a good white wine, the floral notes here are balanced by the crispness which lingers. It is not a profound fragrance by any means, but a very fine scent in eau de toilette concentration and worth seeking out in the shower gel, too. And while it bills itself for women, I think this is as safe a bet as ever for the jocks in the room.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rubj by Vero Profumo

Many of you already know the admiration with which I hold Swiss perfumer Vero Kern. Her three extraits de parfums (Onda, Kiki and Rubj) provide for endless olfactory fascination. But unlike many niche perfumes, Kern’s actually work as “statement scents” not mere curiosities for me and my wrist. Having lived in that country of milk and mountains, I can say that her creations are most definitely not Swiss in conception or execution. They are very French but without the million-dollar advertising hype we associate with the great maisons de parfums.

Strangely enough, Rubj has been the hardest nut of the three for me to crack. Perhaps because it makes me feel so good when I wear it. No wonder, then, that Kern is an aromatherapist by trade. With Rubj she manages to attune the innocuous white floral with a deep, musk- and jasmine-laden heart. Orange blossom absolute from Morocco (nectar bursting into sunlight) coats the outside of this olfactory objet, and then layered behind it are Egyptian jasmine and tuberose (indolic and sweaty-sweet) and very fine (read: not dirty) musk notes. At first approach, one’s nose might characterize this as borderline fruity, but there’s enough complexity lurking underneath to turn your eyes off the dessert platter and into the candlelit bedroom. If you own and love Fleurissimo, this is the next step.

Kern’s extraits come in gorgeous, vintage-inspired crystal flacons with ground glass stoppers, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about them. 7.5 ml will run you around $165, 15ml around $260. They are available online at, and will soon have limited distribution in the United States.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Etro Sandalo

Etro fragrances are among the most pleasant of the fragrance market’s unsung heroes. A bottle of Vetiver has graced my bathroom vanity for the last seven years, and when I go anywhere on extended vacation a bottle accompanies me. Etro Patchouli was my first official “adult” perfume purchase, and it goes down as one of the benchmark interpretations of that most mercurial of notes. Etro fragrances are such a perfect evocation of their brand, as, like the scarves for which Etro is known, you can never have enough of them – and, quite pleasantly, they complement each other. And what’s more, they are among the best (and most affordable) scents to buy en masse for daily layering combinations. (I won’t lie. I also find the bottles possess a plain perfection.)

These days, I’m reaching for Sandalo (1989). I admire its dry, well-bred aspect: Mysore sandalwood, myrrh gum, amber and some subtle florals lurking in the background. It has greater tenacity than Floris’ classic sandalwood scent and, owing to the myrrh gum, a touch more of the exotic. Picking up the bottle is like discovering some careworn old accessory that works perfectly with today’s look. A great daytime scent, Sandalo can be worn easily after a shower or with a loose-fitting weekend shirt. Or with nothing at all.

It begs contemplation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

L’Heure Bleue

Is there a better example in modern perfumery of how inextricably a name can be linked to the experience of the juice it introduces than Guerlain L’Heure Bleue? No one can argue with the place of Mitsouko (which, seven year later in 1919, marked the defeat of Germany and the end of World War I) in perfume history, but L’Heure Bleue is another story entirely. Somewhere along the way, it got lost in the annals. It was, and still is, produced but people forgot about it. Or, alas, people never got to know it. It was too quaint, perhaps, in its art nouveau bottle. And with the dawn of the sexual revolution, it didn’t sound the bacchanalian call-to-arms. But, like Chanel No. 5, it contained in part the very DNA of the Guerlain brand; for, at day’s end, people would remember its contemporaneous bedfellows – brainchildren of Jacques Guerlain – Shalimar and Vol de Nuit among them.

L’Heure Bleue is not a statement about feminity. It is a form a feminity, if a slightly angular one. It is a poem. It coheres. It communicates an emotion. It holds a secret in its fragile hands – the fragile hands of the evening. When I look at it closely, I see its parts, but like the branches of the trees reaching up into the crépuscule it becomes a unitary thing: the moment frozen and fleeting that we have all experienced and tried to grasp and couldn’t.

Beautiful, easeful melancholy in a bottle. It is the Poet’s and his alone.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Here Comes the Rain Again

Imagine yourself waking in an attic room, a light rain falling outside the rickety old window and lilac bushes swaying gently in the breeze. Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant, created in 2000 for Frédéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums, was conceived, je pense, with such a scene in mind. Giacobetti, creator of such perfumes as Diptyque’s cult-classic Philosykos, L’Artisan’s Safran Troublant, Hermès Hiris, and, most recently, Lubin’s Idole de Lubin, is a perfumer of two minds. On the one hand, she succeeds at yummy scents which blend intriguing spice components with a certain gourmand appeal. On the other hand, she has an attraction toward rawness in nature. Hiris and Philosykos prove her the mistress of the uncooked. It’s “raw perfumery,” if you will. Figs torn from the branch before they’ve even plumped to ripeness, an iris rhizome yanked from the dew-soaked earth. En Passant contains notes of white lilac, rain, orange tree leaves, cucumber and wheat. On my skin it registers moisture and early morning freshness. It is clean and comforting, and takes pride of place on a man’s or woman’s vanity.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Chanel Fragrance Master Class

I nearly entitled this posting, In Which I Am Invited, as I didn’t see much “infiltration” going on at the Chanel Fragrance Master Class hosted by Sniffapalooza on Saturday, March 1. Trajecting the inner sanctum of Monsieur Karl?––now, that would be infiltrating! After all, I paid my admission just like everyone else. The morning session, which I attended in its entirety, was one of the best-organized events of its kind. After a harrying cab ride from the FDR Drive, I was relieved to be warmly welcomed into a cool, clean, orderly space finished in Chanel’s inimitable white-outlined-in-black. A delicious breakfast was laid out for us, including a near-perfect yogurt parfait from Brasserie 8-1/2. From the outset, this day was going to be as much about the stimulation of the senses as the pampering of them.

Eden McCracken, who conducted the class with a team of five assistants, was a tall, striking presence in a black dress adorned at the waist by a stunning feather rosette, covered in a flowing silk wrap that went all the way to her black leather bottines. She did Karl proud. The session lasted about 3 hours and covered the signature scents, not surprisingly placing the utmost attention on the the rose de mai/jasmin de Grasse accord in No 5. Interesting, indeed, it was to learn that the eau de toilette concentration (engineered by Ernest Beaux in 1924) has a Tunisian néroli top note which is quite conspicuously accentuated by sandalwood in the base. Likewise, the eau de parfum concentration done by Jacques Polge in 1986 accentuates the vanillin.

Eden used a video presentation to explain the oft-used musical metaphor applied to scent, stressing how the higher-toned notes correlate with the highly volatile citrus accords, middle tones with florals, and bass tones with fixatives. She then gave a full-dress presentation on the Les Exclusifs , including a sneak-peek at Sycomore, a lovely vetiver eau de toilette rendition due out in the next couple of months. What continues to amaze me about the Les Exclusifs collection is how pure the scents smell. Minor masterpieces of perfumery (though some would differ with me and push 31 Rue Cambon higher on the scale), they nevertheless betray an innocence-joined-to-sophistication that Gabriele “Coco” Chanel would have applauded. I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to own the entire collection.

And in typical Chanel fashion, the day would not have been complete without a complimentary No 5 EDP, which now adorns my nightstand. Karen Dubin and Karen Adams clearly outdid themselves in making this grand affair take place. If anybody did the infiltrating, it was that duo. Bravi, tutti.

Image credit: Andy Warhol, Chanel No. 5. Courtesy of the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Cereus Cocktail

The recently launched Cereus pour Homme line of men’s fragrances sets its sights on the plus-35 crowd who crave Italian suiting and other of the finer things. I must say, then, that it was with much trepidation that I made the initial approach to Cereus No. 11, which billed itself as “pure luxury.” I had heard such claims before and, while I understood the urge to trade up, I was skeptical as to what they exactly meant. As an erstwhile connoisseur, I prefer “pure luxury” to remain inaccessible to the commonplace consumer. But in the case of No. 11 (as with certain of the Nasomatto perfumes, recently reviewed), I was elated to find a foil to the hollow marketing rhetoric: a pleasant, well-constructed riff on the gin gimlet (a gin cocktail consisting of dry gin, Rose’s lime juice, simple syrup and a splash of soda). Cereus, a brand development firm based in southern California, approached Fragrance Resources in 2005 with a brief that demanded juice which would evoke “modern masculinity,” as well as one that would strike a balance between sex appeal and crisp self-presentation. Smelling it for the first time, the image it conjured for me was that of a Canali suit worn with an open-collared shirt in some shade of seafoam or menta. While I don’t exactly get the effervescence or the sweat-beaded martini glass, I do get the nose-arresting coolness of fennel (seemingly a very conscious nod to the wild fennel note in Duchaufour’s Méchant Loup) but sans the stickiness. This is sprinkled with black peppercorn, and the lime plays second-fiddle to a sharp juniper berry note. (Clearly, this bartender sees gin as the star, not the lime juice.) Bourbon vetiver and light musk round out the bottom along with an assortment of woody notes. All in all, I find myself admiring the contrasts in No. 11 and look forward to testing its bedfellows, Nos. 4, 5 and 7.

Cereus No. 11 is currently sold at high-end specialty stores, including Luckyscent and Barneys New York.