Review: MDCI Invasion Barbare

Notes: grapefruit, bergamot, violet leaves, white thyme, cardamom, lavender, ginger, cedarwood, vanilla, musk.

MDCI stands for Marchal Design & Créations Indépendantes, after Claude Marchal, Parfums MDCI’s founder and owner. Wonderfully affable and a true gentleman, who recently was gracious enough to grant me a look into this houses extensive line; with the firm favorite being a modern master piece and one worthy of the infamous Luca Turin’s 5-star rating.

“Invasion Barbare is an elegant and soulful portrayal of a man of every woman´s dreams. He exudes warmth, intelligence and sensitivity as well as strength. Yet sensitive as he is, there is a barbarian hidden under his refined exterior. Like the ”Perfect Man” Invasion Barbare combines elegant understatement with lots of warmth and an unexpected, mesmerizing depth. The composition is built on the contrast of freshness and warmth, on the intriguing, almost peppery at the beginning play between citrusy notes, lavender, spices, vanilla and woods. The blend is extremely well crafted and as a result Invasion Barbare is a fascinating fragrance. A soft-spoken fragrance, there is nothing forceful about it, yet it possesses an almost hypnotic charisma.”

Formerly known as SB1, Invasion Barabre was launched in 2006 by perfumer Stéphanie Bakouche who set forth a stylistically modern aromatic fougère based on tried and true classical principles. What’s immediately apparent is the complexity and the quality of materials used in the composition, which exhibit a vague and comforting familiarity.

Wonderfully elegant, refined and well mannered in its opening; which is made up of a modern exuberance of crisp interplay between fresh lavender, violets and citrus and a warm contrast of subtle spices, which exude a gentle yet firm charm and radiance. Evolving into a more classical structure, cedarwood and musk add a solid masculine base, rounded off by a dry bourbon vanilla which ties in superbly and seamlessly with the zest and sweet warmth of the opening. Masterfully executed and presented, speaking with a firm and bold authority without ever resorting to being brazen, I would say that the name is half way between a misnomer and accurate. It’s all down to your perspective and how you perceive the overall concept. With that said, the fragrance is true to the demands of the brand: elegant, precious, masculine and extremely sophisticated.

Rating: 9.5/10
Longevity: 8/10
Projection: 8/10
Occasion: Semi-formal, Formal 


Review: Helmut Lang Cuiron

Notes: plum, “fluid” leather, fresh notes, “sensual” leather, suede notes, “noble” leather.

A revered cult-classic, one which is rightfully mourned throughout the fragrance community and one rightfully deserving of its accolades. Personally I have to admit, I’m rather late to the Cuiron party, haphazardly sampling it recently, knowing full well of its sacristy due to its almost criminal discontinuation (not to mention exuberant prices). Opening with a near translucent and opaque designer suede note on top of crisp effervescent citrus top notes (plum and mandarin). Simple, supple and captivating, I’m hooked already.

A reference leather in its own right, but far be it from the territory of bold classical icons such as Cuir de Russie, Knize Ten and Bandit. But rather pertaining to the realms of stark modern minimalism, made up on bone dry structures (whilst maintaining an air of class and luxury). More notably with all the edges rounded off to maintain a seamless, clean, minimalistic and plush composition, akin to a modern art-deco piece of furniture.

Sprinkles of pepper and some minor hints of a very subtle tobacco add some feint counterpoints, to what would be after the dispersion of the top-notes, a quite stark and nondescript suede/leather. Despite the supposed inclusion of a variety of different leather accords, I find the contrast between them rather unremarkable to comment on any real notable differences. Evolution is minimal, if not entirely linear, with a slightly powdery and squeaky clean musk adding some depth and support to the base.

At the best of times, it can be sometimes difficult to wax lyrical about a particular fragrance, when it’s portrayed with an understated minimalistic elegance. Yet on the other hand, it’s sometimes best to just revere in what can not be said.

Rating: 8/10
Longevity: 7/10
Projection: 7/10
Occasion: Casual, Semi-formal

Review: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour Le Soir

Notes: Infusion of benzoin from Siam, cumin, ylang-ylang, Bulgarian and Iranian rose honey, incense absolute, Atlas cedarwood and sandalwood.

Fresh from absorbing the gratuitous nudity and riveting plot of the abstract cult classic The Dreamers, where Academy Award®-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci portrayed an erotic tale of three young film lovers brought together by their passion for movies and each other; I couldn’t help but draw some parallels between Absolue pour le soir and this cinematic master piece, in which they both portray an engaging and seductive cast of characters, intertwined with a liberal dose of decadent Parisian eroticism.

Arguably one of the best releases (if not the best) of 2010, criminally talented perfumer Francis Kurkdjian took an inspired departure from his usual minimalist and elegantly understated style, which forgive my heathenism (cue elevator music) was starting to stray a little too much towards safe and accessible territory.

                                                                                                                                                                                               (This is what Eva Greens character Isabelle must have smelled like)*


Rich, opulent and deliciously decadent with uninhibited carnal sensuality; As with most of my favorite scents, it’s polarizing in that you will either swoon with exotic bliss, or recoil grimacing in sheer horror, questioning the sanity of anybody with enough reckless abandon to want to smell like this on purpose. I fall firmly into the former category, but would advise those to not buy into the hyperbole and unwarranted conjecture, after all this is not Secretions Magnifiques darling.

Captivating and immediately apparent is despite the seemingly out of character stylistic detour, the composition manages to maintain FK’s elegance and smooth seamless blending, maintaining the integrity and house signatures which Mr. Kurkdjian is renowned for. Bravo…..

(Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian)*

APLS (a scent for the evening) opens bestially sweet, in parted by a beautifully rendered accord of warm honey and resinous benzoin, underpinned with a rapturously camphoraceous Atlas-cedarwood and cumin. There is no foreplay here, the composition for the most part stays dense and direct, leaning towards the realm of linear. After the fervent and tumultuous start, the scent becomes enriched with an enchanting floral blend of ylang-ylang and Iranian rose, with some deft touches of incense, adding a further characteristic depth and ethereal quality.

Always voluptuous, bestowing the wearer with a warm and sophisticated glowing aura, there is a enough challenge to afford the fragrance connoisseur a chance to revel in the scents slightly uriness glory, wearing it like a sophisticated badge of pride.

For the most part the journey is rather linear, as the bestial shadow slowly unwinds and loses it’s fangs; stripping down to something more civilized, akin to it’s predecessor Cologne pour le soir. A kissing cousin to both Musc Ravageur and Muscs Koublai Khan, in which although vastly different from each other, they share a common theme and story. Therefor if you’re a fan of the latter, then chances are you’re going to revel in this one. Another prime example of a gender neutral fragrance, which works equally well on either sex. All in all another one for mandatory testing, highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10
Longevity: 9/10
Projection: 8/10
Occasion: Semi-formal, Formal, Romantic.

Review: Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur

Notes: bergamot, tangerine, cinnamon, vanilla, musk, amber.

“I give these ‘fragrance authors’ complete freedom to explore and express their ideas. Each perfumer is free to use the most innovative technologies and the rarest raw materials the industry offers. This freedom drives the artist to construct a scent without conventional boundaries and to refine his or her idea and formula to the most precise detail. When it is achieved, I publish it at “Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.”

These are the words of wisdom of Frédéric Malle, a gentleman who needs no introduction in the world of niche fragrance. As an innovator hes worked in conjunction with the worlds best noses to create a body of work which defy the conventionalities of modern perfumery; It’s this same innovative and non conformist approach which leads me to hold the house in such high regard and maintain a visceral approach to enjoying each creation.

I perceive each one as animated, vibrant and flirting with the abstract, and as clever artistic statements, they tantalize the senses with rich and colorful contrasts. Musc Ravageur is no exception and remains to this day a firm favorite in an extensive line.

As a so-called rich “oriental for grown ups“, Musc Ravageur is permeating with a sexy, playful flamboyance and a certain je ne sais quoi that only the French do best. Unfolding with a deceptive opening which has Maurice Roucel’s stylistic handwriting all over it, it’s a stark contrast to the eventual evolution, as it slowly and progressively weaves its magic into a lusty siren of a fragrance. Beginning with a mouth watering and tantalizing cool icy bergamot and tangerine, set against a broad backdrop of lavender, the surprise to come of rich woods, musks and spices are yet to make their full entrance to the boudiour, although they remain subtly present.

Allegedly Roucel was inspired by Guerlains classic Shalimar (which it does resemble with certain traits) but I can’t help at this phase being reminded of something which vaguely resembles a prelude to Gucci’s Envy, interesting. Never the less, it’s not particularly “dirty” at this point, but there are some very slight medicinal under currents attributed to the musk, which may equate for the *gasp* “old man smell” association which many seem to be mysteriously picking up. I don’t find the animalic/skank/(insert word here) particularly challenging or off putting, but rather intriguing, since it adds a certain element of mystique and French haute-naughtiness.

Though I do personally find the musk rather fleeting, which is prominent in the opening, yet remains elusive as the scent progresses, rendering the name almost a misnomer at times. Whether this is down to a probable cause of  being anosmic to the supposed variety of musks used is anybodies guess.

Next up comes the focal point and everybodies favorite part of the strip tease, when MR turns unapologetically gourmand and begins to purr like a kitten. Unfolding with a creamy-kaleidoscopic warmth of the sweet (vanilla) and spice (clove/cinnamon) enveloping the wearer like the proverbial cashmere blanket, cozy,dependable and comforting. Staying on this course for the majority of its stay, before slowly unwinding and settling down to lightly woody, ambery base with the rich vanilic sweetness remaining the dominant player. Delicious.

MR gives off a warm radiating projection, if not a little flamboyant, but without becoming vulgar, the balance of control remains impressive I must say. In closing I find the overall scent seriously seductive, decadent and immensely sensual, with the journey towing the fine line between aggressive and restrained, yet managing to pull it all off with some serious class, swagger and charm.

A perfect definition of a genderless fragrance, this one works equally well on a man, woman or beast and although a victim of hype through no fault of its own, it still remains mandatory testing for a new comer to the world of niche perfumery.

Rating: 9/10
Longevity: 9/10
Projection: 7/10
Occasion: Casual, Semi-Formal, Romantic

Review: Comme des Garçons Avignon

Notes: roman chamomile, cistus oil, elemi, incense, vanilla, patchouli, palisander, ambrette seeds.

Avignon opens almost as grandiose in stature as the Palasi des Papes of Avignon itself; weaving a whimsical and evocative tapestry of dark smoldering warmth of Gothic-cathedral proportions, attributed to a vividly accurate star accord of smokey ash laden frankincense and myrrh.

With the image of warm sunlight shining through the colorful mosaic glass and those childhood memories of Sunday mass conjured and in full swing, comes the scents swirling and unraveling progressive stage of the opening; akin to the smoke emanating from a swaying thurible of the priest making his way from the vestry. This phase is by far my favorite, as it’s when Avignon’s wonderfully challenging burning and glowing resin is presented in its full glory.

Bertrand Duchaufour cleverly avoids pushing the boundaries to levels of burning and jagged austerity and realism, by taming and softening the edges with a bone dry vanilla and an enchanting and comforting Roman chamomile, which plays its role in setting forth a peaceful and meditative state; leaving a trail of dusty sweetness soothing out the bitter in a manner in which only lavender or chamomile can do.

This crucial step in the blending never creates a dichotomy of contradicting and conflicting elements, but rather strikes that meticulously inventive contrasting (yet harmonious) state, where the stark dry boldness of the heated ash is tempered and complemented with it’s polar opposite of light and warmth (a zesty elemi/vanilla/chamomile) which is key for the scents wearability in my opinion. Avignon remains very linear on my skin for the most part, with  iso-e-super playing its role in imparting a rich velvety prominent texture and volume giving the incense accords a much needed lift in carrying the concept through to the very end.

After spending a portion of my childhood in a quaint little Catholic town in Southern Italy called Martina Franca, I became quite accustomed early on to the rich and enigmatic aroma of freshly burnt incense, which naturally was common place in the charming town. Although I’m not Catholic myself and have no religious affinities to the scent, I’m definitely partial to the smell of incense and Avignon is immensely enjoyable and evokes those fond childhood memories in spades.

In closing, I must confess. I really do love this one a lot, highly recommended! Finally I’ll add that after sampling the entire Incense series 3 line up, I can unequivocally attest that this one is the stand out and definitely up there with Zagorsk as having the best longevity and silage in the series.

Rating: 8.5/10
Longevity: 8/10
Projection: 8/10
Occasion: Casual

Review: Puredistance M

Notes: bergamot, lemon, rose, jasmin, cinnamon, patchouli, moss, cistus, vetiver, vanilla, leather, musk

Whilst setting out to create the first masculine release for Dutch luxury niche house Puredistance, Roja Dove and his “team” decided to pay homage to a classic, one which has in recent times fallen pray to the evils of dreaded reformulation and that is the heralded Bel-Ami.

Holding the fragrance in such high esteem by choosing to use more than just a subtle passing nod to the Hermès classic, Roja Dove has almost seemingly “borrowed” (or resurrected?) the vintage leather prominent formulation as the inspiration/foundation for M; In conjunction with a creative brief put forth by PD owner Mr. Jan Ewoud Vos, the order of the day was to evoke the image of “luxury, the charismatic, the debonaire, the interior/exterior of an Aston Martin” in short personified by a certain Mr. Bond. James Bond.

This eventually led to a luxurious and modern reinterpretation of the classic leather-chypre which opens in a typical extrait de parfum manner, which I find for lack of a better word turbid and complex (yet immensely satisfying). The rich oak moss and leather let their presence as THE key players be known immediately and they’re joined by a wonderfully fresh and bright bergamot/lemon top note combo giving the opening some much needed and refreshing piercing light.

At this point the subtle and clever use of M’s spices are yet to make their introduction, but lurking behind  the clouds is a charming and stunningly crisp semi-sweet jasmine note, making its way to the forefront to join the main cast in the spot light; through the opening of the dark turbulence of the base and the effervescence of the top notes. Continuing on with its progression, once the enigmatic jasmine decides to finally fully emerge, it does not arrive fashionably late, rather punctually on time and joined almost seamlessly with its intertwined guests of subtle rose and cinnamon.

The floral accords are simply beautiful, well conceived and a well paid homage to classical French perfumery, walking that fine line of elegance and femininity, stopping M short of becoming an all out bruiser (or dandified for that matter). I’ll add at this point, that this opening/mid unfold will be quite polarizing to many, due to the use of a prominent oak moss accord, which is often mistaken for cumin and which is giving many the impression of “curried spices”.

Personally, I find M decisively delicious and luckily I get far more leather, rich-smooth earthiness (vetiver/patchouli) and subtle sweetness (vanilla/jasmine), than I do the “curried spice” effect, which I find is more of a feint under cast, than a dominating factor on my skin. Never the less, after the deep opening and the subtly evolving mid salvo, I find M to take a turn towards the linear (which is fine by me) as it settles down to a rich, smooth and subtly sweet leather, conjuring up its indented image of the interior of Bond’s Aston-Martin perfectly.

M is meticulously blended to become more than just the simple sum of it’s parts. Each note is bold, yet is set to a specific “volume” to play its part in this concerto, making the composition appear smooth and seamless, but not to the point of blunting/overly rounding off key notes and rendering them unrecognizable. Dove has left just enough breathing room for the majority of the supporting cast to shine, without disrupting the balance of harmony in the base.

The final result has a decisively masculine feel, although this would work splendidly on the right woman, hence the reason for naming the fragrance “M“, a letter which can be inverted to form a “W” for woman. In closing I’d classify M as a clever and classically elegant tried and true formula, of rich and regal masculine proportions, complemented with a hint to the “naughty” (musk/leather/cistus) to keep it somewhat challenging and to keep an inquisitive nose coming back for more.

One caveat is that due to its high oil concentration level, it’s advisable to go easy on the trigger there slick. Over application can lead to what can be best described as the “muddy” effect, which is the build up of the very rich, dense and potentially overwhelming base notes.

Unlike its predecessor M boasts the wonderful sillage and longevity you’d expect from an extrait de parfum, which in my opinion justifies the hefty price tag. Bravo, a winner.

Rating: 9/10
Longevity: 8/10
Projection: 9/10
Occasion: Formal, Playing cards at Casino Royale

Review: Nasomatto Black Afgano

Notes: cannabis, herbal notes, resins, woods, coffee, tobacco, frankincense, oud

So today I finally got around to sampling the enigmatic and mythical Basenotes legend Black Afgano. With all the excessive hype and propaganda from the Nasomatto marketing machine, coupled with mixed reviews meant my expectations weren’t especially high (no pun intended). Then again smuggled ingredients, supposed extreme scarcity and the “evocation of temporary bliss” what’s not to be curious about.

First impressions? Mixed. I wasn’t overly impressed and it didn’t draw any “wow factor”, but my nose didn’t curl up and proclaim “bong water!” either. Worthy of the hype? No. Do I like it? Yes. Does it smell like Play-Doh? Kind of!

I’d describe the overall scent as dark, dry, resinous and austere with a very feint hint of sweetness attributed to a dry amber/vanilla/incense lurking underneath the beast notes. Straight out of the bong you’re greeted with a dense aroma chemical sucker punch made up of synthetic Givaudan oud, coupled with an underpinned cedar effect in the form of Kephalis (which is an Iso-E-Super substitute, only with a more woodier/smokier feel).

Finally I can make out some quite prominent vetiver/tobacco notes, adding to the “greenness” which the general nose picks up. I may be off, but I definitely feel like I’m picking up one of the main players here and that’s Norlimbanol™, which is described as an “extremely powerful woody/animal amber note. That has a dry woody note in the patchouli direction”.

As described by Chandler Burr, “Norlimbanol is one of the most amazing scents around, a genius molecule that should be worth its weight in gold; Norlimbanol gives you, quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation, and if when you smell it, you’ll understand that instantly—the molecule is, by itself, a multi-sensory Disney ride.”

It’s this same compound which I believe gives the scent its subtle leathery undertones along with the amber. Don’t be too impressed with my ability to pick out aroma chemicals though! I recently purchased a slew of them in a vain attempt to try my hand blending, so I’ve gotten to know them quiet well individually, but anyways, I digress.

Coming back to the scent and the million dollar question, does it warrant the name? In short no. If you inhale deeply and concentrate you can pick up some very feint superficial passing resemblances to hashish, but overall I personally don’t believe the name is warranted.

As for the final scent, it’s just as you’d expect it to be, it’s dense and the oud note is by far the dominant player making it very linear and overshadowing of everything else, but if you’re a fan of Dior Leather Oud, Bond No.9 Harrods Oud or Montale Aoud Cuir D’Arabie, then this one could be right up your street. (although BA is nowhere near the level of quality, originality and complexity of the latter listed scents, in my humble opinion of course.)*

Overall I’ll agree that it’s a well rounded aromatic fragrance, but I’ll also agree that it’s potentially “missing something” too. The longevity it boasts is extremely impressive and to be expected from an extrait de parfum, but the  sillage is minimal unfortunately. With all that said, will I be buying a bottle? Probably!

Rating: 6/10
Longevity: 10/10
Projection: 6/10
Occasion: Casual-Semi formal