Thursday, August 27, 2009

Best Magnolia Ever: Reflection Woman

For some odd reason, imminent showers (of the meteorological sort) send me reaching for the more classically feminine scents. Of late, I’ve been taken with Maurice Roucel’s Reflection Woman for Amouage, which contains arguably one of the most perfectly executed magnolia notes in all of fine perfumery. I guess it apropos before my reviews of the new heavy-hitters, Epic Man and Epic Woman, to contemplate a fragrance drawn with a lighter hand.

Reflection Woman, true to its name, has a wateriness that endears it to me almost immediately. Like the scent of my mother’s skin after her morning swim in the pond. Except that the pond was northeastern, and I never once got to smell the magnolia – a real Southern thing – until I was bigger.

After all, magnolia is one of the hardest scents to recreate in the laboratory. It is at once delicate and sensual, fragile and carnal. In some instances, it can be cloying and almost cheap. But, sharing molecules with jasmine and muguet, its sweetness marries the skin in a demure, human (never showy) fashion. In Reflection Woman, the jasmine is linked to ylang ylang, lending the scent tenacity and a better-than-decent sillage. Roucel’s trademark note, michelia alba (a tropical magnolia) is shown off better here than in any other fragrance carrying his signature.

Reflection Woman is the epitome of a wearable, polite fragrance – but never pedestrian. It has the pedigree of a Hepburn crossed with a Vanderbilt. It doesn’t need to button itself up when the clouds gather. It is alive. It sings in the rain.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Behold the Oud: Bond No. 9 Harrods Special Edition

I recently had the opportunity to experience the fruit of Bond No. 9’s collaboration with the venerable Harrods Knightsbridge department store — what is being called Harrods Special Edition. For those of you who haven’t been following these developments, it’s one of three scents that Harrods commissioned and, notably, it’s the oud among them. The catch is that it’s a limited-edition scent and its bottle is crystallized with over a thousand Swarovski crystals that I thought we’d already had quite enough of. It’s also pricey. But it’s oud, silly.

Joy Land, the intrepid doyenne of Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits, once confided to me that, here in New York, the moneyed families often would buy up all the imperfect labels (the ripped and wine-splashed, etc) — after all, they were just going to drink the stuff, not genuflect in front of it. And, of late, I wish that the same could be done for perfume. Especially, um, Special Edition. A few missing crystals aren’t going to shake what is now bordering on outright adoration.

That said, of late my love affair with oud has taken a new turn. Or, let me rephrase: My love affair with oud’s influence on a select set of Western perfumers — including Christopher Chong’s latest incarnation of Amouage — has just kicked into warp. Seriously, mes amis, last spring I went out on a limb praising the various mukhullats and attars that utilized this strange and precious substance, and lo and behold, here in August 2009, everything’s coming up “oud.” I’m surprised Axe hasn’t come out with an Abu Dhabi-exclusive yet.

Apparently, having tested Special Edition and its high-end stablemate By Kilian Pure Oud, I’m struck by the similarity in the base material. It’s been rumored that both employ a new natural ingredient developed by Givaudan called Oud Orpur — and I’d wager that Tom Ford’s Private Blend Oud Wood employs the same, albeit at a greater dilution. It is sheer perfection in a material, and I envy the perfumer who gets the creative brief to use it.

Harrods Special Edition opens with cumin and black pepper before exploding on the skin in typical oud fashion and, again, like the By Kilian Pure Oud, tempering it with vetiver. Being much smoother and refined, it’s worlds — galaxies, universes — apart from the rapidly multiplying and (still-affordable-on-a-living-wage) ouds from Montale in Paris. An hour after I sprayed it in the crook of my right elbow, people were asking me what I was wearing and telling me how amazing I smelled. It was one of those “yesss” moments for a perfume connoisseur — as these were normal on-the-go New Yorkers who love to smell good but who don’t particularly fetishisize scent the way that I do.

So... I am seriously in love with this juice, just sans those Swarovskis. This side of the Emirates, lavish most certainly does not have to be garish.