Where to start? Part 7 (10 Old world classics)

Now we travel back in time to take a look at some of the aristocratic “old guard” of classical perfumery. Legends of their time and legends today in that they’re still considered a benchmark of true mastery.

Chanel- Cuir de Russie

Notes: orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage,iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, vetiver, styrax, leather, amber, vanilla

Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather) captures the essence of the wild and lavish Russia from the 1920s. Impressing and setting forth intrigue with its luxuriously plush sensuality. CdR belongs to the founding elite of the genre defining aristocracy of perfumery of this era.

Its leather notes were unusual for female fragrance of this time and was once described by Coco Chanel as “a very improper perfume for nicely brought-up young ladies.” But that hasn’t stopped the likes of Mick Jagger wearing it!

Rating: 9.5/10

Guerlain- Jicky

Notes: lavender, rosemary, bergamot, rosemary, fougere harmony,  civet, opoponax, woody notes, vanilla, tonka bean

Jicky was created in 1889, a classical fragrance despite its age has remained timeless and still very modern. According to the legend, the perfume was named after a girl Aime Guerlain was in love with when he was a student in England. It is more likely though, that this perfume is named after his uncle Jacques Guerlain’s nickname – Jicky.

This was one of the first perfumes created with the addition of synthetic materials (the first was Fougere Royale Houbigant, 1882). The top notes contain lavender and citrus (bergamot, lemon and mandarin), which perfectly match the cold, metallic orris and rose shaded by vetiver. The cold top and middle notes are an elegant counterbalance to the warm base created by patchouli, vanilla, amber and musk. A firm favourite of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, which speaks volumes.

Rating: 9.5/10

Guerlain- Mitsouko

Notes: bergamot, peach, jasmine,rose, oakmoss, vetiver, pepper, cinnamon

Mitsouko was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1919, inspired by the heroine of Claude Farrčre’s novel ‘La Bataille’, a story of an impossible love between Mitsouko, the wife of Japanese Admiral Togo, and a British officer. The story takes place in 1905, during the war between Russia and Japan. Both men went to war, and Mitsouko, hiding her feelings with dignity, waits for the outcome of the battle to discover which of the two men will come back to her and be her companion.

Mitsouko is a mysterious fragrance, not allowing everyone to see its beauty. The opening is long, like a play of all beautiful notes, and, of course, this fragrance is not for ordinary day use. On the skin it sounds as if it starts from far away, without any allusion to its intensity and sensual side. Unique, original and must be sampled by everyone who enjoys fragrance.

Rating: 9.5/10

Guerlain- Shalimar

Notes: lemon, bergamot, jasmine, May rose, iris, incense, opoponax, tonka bean, vanilla

Shalimar was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1925, as a tribute to the legendary love story between Emperor Shajahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Before he became emperor his name was Prince Khurram. According to the legend, twenty- year-old Prince Khurram met a young girl, named Arjumand Banu at the bazaar where her family worked.

Mesmerized by her beauty, after becoming emperor, he made her his wife as Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”. After the wedding ,the prince and Mumtaz were inseparable, in war and in peace. She had given 13 children to Shahjahan and died during the birth of their 14th child at the age of 39. Her death devastated Shah Jahan, who then built the Taj Mahal in memory of his late wife and their undying love. Shalimar is named after ‘The Gardens of Shalimar’ which was Mumtaz’s favorite garden.

Rating: 9/10

Knize- Ten

Notes: bergamot, lemon, orange, petitgrain, rosemary, geranium, cedarwood, rose, orris, carnation, cinnamon, sandalwood, leather, musk, moss, amber, castoreum, vanilla

Knize Ten, a classic wickedly unique scent and is considered to be the reference leather if not the best leather compositions in the history of perfume. It was launched in the 1920s through founder of the House is Joseph Knize, the Viennese tailor of the Royal Court.

The nose behind this fragrant creation is a perfumer Vincent Roubert, and the design of the bottle is attributed to the Viennese architect Adolf Loos. Number ten in the name symbolizes the polo game. Having been originally released in 1925 and still going strong today is testament to the quality of this marvel. Regal and complex with enough butch leather and dandified florals, to be the king of cool James Deans signature scent (enough said).

Rating: 9.5/10

Chanel- No.5

Notes: aldehydes, Grasse jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, iris, amber, patchouli

Chanel N°5 currently the best selling and recognized women’s perfume in the world. Conceptualized and created when Coco Chanel asked perfume designer Ernest Beaux to create a perfume “which smells like a woman“. N°5 a very complex fragrance which does not allow any of the fragrant components to be isolated out of the composition, what was exactly the request of the great Coco Chanel –“the perfume should not smell like a rose, or a lily of the valley, but as a composition.”

The perfume became famous thanks to many celebrities who wore it, among which was Marilyn Monroe. Chanel N°5 is often connected to her name because during a legendary interview in 1954, she claimed that in bed she wore only ‘Chanel N°5‘. That statement became a superb advertising slogan and a reason for millions of women around the world to choose this perfume (The current Chanel N°5 face is Brad Pitt believe it or not).

Ernest Beaux created two series of perfume samples numbered 1-5 and 20-24 and asked Coco Chanel to choose one of them. Madame Chanel chose sample no. 5 and thus history was created and the perfume got its name. Superstitious, Chanel presented her new perfume on the fifth day of the fifth month of 1921.

Whilst creating the composition Beaux utilized for the first time the synthetic component – aldehydes. In his formula the aldehydes are accompanied by fragrances of rose and jasmine. The fragrance of aldehydes is pure and fresh, reminds of the odor of clean linen just brought in the house form the fresh frosty air. It is said that the famous creator drew his inspiration for creation of this fragrance from one of his visits to the Arctic Circle and the smell of water at midnight. The unique smell of frozen lakes and rivers fascinated him so much that he decided to replicate it in his creation.

Rating: 9/10

Chanel- Bois des Iles

Notes: aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, peach, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, iris, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, benzoin, musk

Bois des Iles (Island Woods), was created in 1926 and it is said that Beaux created Bois des Iles while he was rapt by Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, the opera inspired by the Puskin’s novel about love and hazard, his favorite creation.

Original and genre defining in that it did for Sandalwood what Cuir de Russie did for leather. Traditional masculine notes refined for the ladies (but could be easily worn by men). A dry and spicy freshness leads to a rich and sumptuous floral heart, the light sweetness of which undulates with dry and dark woody notes. At the end, the composition becomes warmer, more comfortable and tame, as if entering into a dark room illuminated by the flames of a fireplace.

Rating: 9.5/10

Robert Piguet- Bandit

Notes: orange, tuberose, jasmine, rose, leather, woods

Bandit, the most daring in the entire genre of perfumes, including Caron Tabac Blond and Chanel Cuir de Russie, perfumes for an emancipated woman on the turn of the last century; for a woman who dares to smoke in public. Bandit was made for the avantgarde Robert Piguet’s collection, inspired by romantic sea voyages and pirates. Bandit is a classic “chypre” with dark animal notes and aggressive leather accord. In 1999, after 25 years, production of Bandit reinitialized again.

Rating: 9/10

Caron- Pour un homme

Notes: lavender, rosemary, bergamot, lemon, clary sage, rose, rosewood, cedarwood, vanilla, tonka, musk, moss

Pour Un Homme de Caron by Caron is an Aromatic fragrance for men. Launched in 1934 and the nose behind this fragrance is Ernest Daltroff. It’s a rich, yet elegantly understated “gentlemen” fragrance, which is rather sophisticated in its simplicity. Made up of a soothing and refined lavender and vanilla, with a delicate hint of musk. Recommended.

Rating: 8.5/10

Guerlain-Sous le Vent

Notes: lavender, tarragon, bergamot, green notes, jasmine, carnation, iris, woodsy notes

See a wonderful review here.

Rating: 9/10

Where to start? Part 6 (10 Masculine Classics)

Through the golden ages of perfumery, a time when quality and timelessness was favored over fads, gimmicks and quickly passing trends. I give you the Mount Rushmore of classic/timeless masculine fragrances:

Guerlain- Derby

Notes: artemisia, bergamot, lemon, peppermint, jasmine, mace, pepper, pimento, rose, leather, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver

Derby was originally created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1985 and although it’s had a little “work” done along the way, it still remains an iconic rich masculine leather chypre and arguably the head of its class in its genre. Trying to describe it would be doing it a disservice, therefore this is one which must simply be tried.

* Since reintroduced at Guerlain’s flagship boutique in Paris, in a rather vulgar and tacky wooden themed bottle, instead of the elegant original bee bottle.

Rating: 9.5/10

Guerlain- Habit Rouge

Notes: bergamot, lemon, rosewood, basil, pimiento, sandal, carnation, patchouli, cedar, rose, cinnamon, vanilla, amber, moss, leather, benzoin, labdanum, olibanum

The Guerlain family has a passion for horses, which Habit Rouge trumpets for all to hear.

The air is bracing and the forest blazes with reds and yellows.  The atmosphere is charged with a fragrance mix of earth, warm leather, the forest and the smell of the horses, the steam rising from their coats in the morning air. The primitive instinct of the hunt still runs through the veins of the hunter.

Rarely does man find himself so close to his original state. Habit Rouge captures this primitive instinct in all its mastery, cultivation and refinement.

Expressive yet delicate, this is a real man’s perfume. The first oriental men’s fragrance, it is replete with contrast.  It is the fragrance of the hunter, albeit for the most tender of hunts.

Rating: 9/10

Caron- Yatagan

Notes: lavender, wormwood, petitgrain, artemisia, geranium, pine needles, vetiver, patchouli, leather, castoreum, styrax

Another iconic mans man fragrance. Named after the sharp, curved Turkish saber Yatagan. It’s exotic, mysterious sonority is reminiscent of oriental and adventurous destinies. The clinging warm, bold, and sensual scent resembles an extremely rare oriental wood that was used as incense in Hindu homes for centuries.

Yatagan’s wood notes mixed with subtle undertones of herbs such as galbanum, patchouli, incense, Artemisia and mint make this a perfect fall and wintry scent. Yatagan was launched in 1978 and remains today as strong as ever and surprisingly very affordable.

Rating: 8.5/10

Caron- Pour un homme

Notes: lavender, rosemary, bergamot, lemon, clary sage, rose, rosewood, cedarwood, vanilla, tonka, musk, moss

Pour Un Homme de Caron by Caron is an Aromatic fragrance for men. Launched in 1934 and the nose behind this fragrance is Ernest Daltroff. It’s rich, yet elegantly understated “gentlemen” fragrance, which is rather sophisticated in its simplicity. Made up of a soothing and refined lavender and vanilla, with a delicate hint of musk. Recommended.

Rating: 8.5/10

Parfums de Nicolaï- New York

Notes: lemon, bergamot, lavender, pepper, patchouli, cedarwood, spices, vanilla, leather, amber

New York by Parfums de Nicolaï is a classic Woody Spicy fragrance for men. New York was launched in 1989 by Patricia de Nicolai (grand daughter of Pierre Guerlain and trained by legdendary Jean-Paul Guerlain). Far from being unique or concept, but regardless this one is affable as it is a master class in elegance, balance and restraint in perfumery.

Rating: 8.5/10

Knize- Ten

Notes: bergamot, lemon, orange, petitgrain, rosemary, geranium, cedarwood, rose, orris, carnation, cinnamon, sandalwood, leather, musk, moss, amber, castoreum, vanilla

Knize Ten, a classic wickedly unique scent and is considered to be the reference leather if not the best leather compositions in the history of perfume. It was launched in the 1920s through founder of the House is Joseph Knize, the Viennese tailor of the Royal Court.

The nose behind this fragrant creation is a perfumer Vincent Roubert, and the design of the bottle is attributed to the Viennese architect Adolf Loos. Number ten in the name symbolizes the polo game. Having been originally released in 1925 and still going strong today is testament to the quality of this marvel. Regal and complex with enough butch leather and dandified florals, to be the king of cool James Deans signature scent (enough said).

Rating: 9.5/10

Yves Saint Laurent- Kouros

Notes: aldehydes, artemisia, coriander, clary sage and bergamot, carnation, patchouli, cinnamon, orris root, jasmine, vetiver and geranium, honey, leather, tonka bean, amber, musk, civet, oakmoss, vanilla

Launched in 1981 by YSL King Kouros remains to this day one of the top selling men’s releases on the planet for a reason. Simply put this is masculinity personified in a fragrance, iconic and symbolic of the 80’s this polarizing powerhouse has since been neutered a little since its inception. Still it remains a contender to be the defining men’s fragrance of all time.

Rating: 9/10

Pascal Morabito- Or Black

Notes: bergamot, pepper, leather, sage, benzoin, cistus, vetiver, amber, tonkinian musk, oakmoss

A classic 80’s leather chypre, which was once discontinued but is now available in a very expensive limited edition and numbered silver-plated bottle (or a basic 100ml re-charge bottle). A wonderful fragrance, which is extremely complex and multifaceted exuding warmth, bitterness, leather, resins, booze, greens.

Dense, masculine and unapologetically 80’s, yet still just as relevant today as it was then. Recommended.

Rating: 8.5/10

Azzaro- Pour homme

Notes: lavender, geranium, anise, petitgrain, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, cardamon, basil, lemon, musk, ambergris

Azzaro pour Homme by Azzaro is a Aromatic Fougere fragrance for men. Launched in 1978 and still remains a top seller today, at a very affordable price (read: cheap). Bold, masculine and leathery with all the hallmarks you’d expect from a fragrance of this era. It may come across as a bit dated, but still a remarkable fragrance.
Rating: 8/10

Chanel- Antaeus

Notes: clary sage, myrtle, patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum, beeswax absolute

Antaeus is the name of ancient Greek demigod. Strong, like a god, and gentle as a man, Antaeus belongs to those perfumes of expressed individuality and strong character which emphasize masculinity, what was a trend in 1980-ies. Myrtle and sage, lime and thyme have united to give the fragrance a special freshness and masculine character.

The fragrance is warming up and becomes intensive at the end due to patchouli, sandal and labdanum in the base. Sharp animalistic nuance is brought in by the notes of castoreum and leather. This could arguably be THE scent iconic of the 80’s (along with Kouros of course), symbolizing Gordon Gekko, Wall street and blow in all its loud, big brash ostentatious glory!

Rating: 8/10

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: 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