One Thousand Scents

Friday, August 31, 2007

Death By Flowers: Gaultier Fleur du Mâle

When I wrote about Fahrenheit 32, I wondered what Gaultier's Fleur du Mâle smelled like, because both of them, released at about the same time, were men's scents built around orange blossom. Someone sent me a couple of spray vials in a swap, and now I have my answer: FdM is essentially Gaultier's Le Mâle tucked inside the hugely amplified orange-blossom note of his Le Classique.

The first thing you smell in FdM is a massive quantity of orange blossom, just as in Fahrenheit 32, but--and there's no way around this--in FdM the floral note smells as feminine as Fahrenheit 32's smells masculine. I'm not happy with the idea that we segregate smells by gender, but we do, and where the Dior masculinized the flowers with assertive aldehydes, the Gaultier makes them overwhelmingly flowery--creamy-sweet yet strident at the same time.

I used to wear Le Mâle, and though I know FdM isn't merely a copy of it with orange-flower added, it seems very much that way: the two scents seem to have a lot of the same elements: those aromatic barbershop notes, the crispness of lavender, vanilla in the base. The official list of notes for Le Mâle even mentions orange blossom, but if it's there, it's subtle. In Fleur du Mâle, it's front and centre, and it grabs you and never lets go.

I could never wear Fleur du Mâle, not because it smells like a stereotypical women's scent (I wear women's scents all the time), but because it really isn't very attractive. The orange blossom is assaultive; it possesses the scent like a demon, and it wears out its welcome very quickly. Fahrenheit 32 cuts through the orange-flower quickly with sharp vetiver and warm vanilla, whereas FdM is simply bogged down in a swamp of the flower.

The bottle for FdM is the same as for Le Mâle, a rather exaggerated male torso, but this time in shimmering white glass instead of sailor-striped aquamarine. Gorgeous, but not enough to make me want it.


Monday, August 13, 2007

The Real Thing: Demeter Licorice

Most commercial scents smell like whatever the perfumer or the company want them to smell like. Realism--whatever that means in that context--isn't particularly relevant, though nowadays, with the domination of sweet gourmand scents, it's a plus if something "smells just like chocolate" or whatever. Still, most scents don't have to smell real: Chanel No. 5 smells like itself and not like a particular flower or bouquet, and likewise with most other scents you could name.

Demeter, though, is in a class by itself. Nearly all of its scents are named after, and based on, a single recognizable thing--a plant, a food or drink, a place, an object. If they don't smell real, if they aren't accurate, then they've failed. Not all of Demeter's attempts at realism are successful, but when they are, they're amazingly, almost unnervingly lifelike.

Last month I got a whole slew of Demeter scents--22, to be exact. I've been trying a lot of them, and there are some real winners and some that I'm at best indifferent to, which is what you'd expect when you order a whole bunch of scents unsniffed. A few of them are real standouts, scents that give me enormous pleasure, and one of them is Licorice.

It doesn't smell quite like licorice root, though it has a rooty-earthy sense to it. It doesn't, thank goodness, smell like that cheap plasticky "licorice" candy such as Twizzlers. What it smells exactly like, instead, is the candy cigars and pipes we used to get when we were kids--and which, amazingly, are still available--see?

The candy has a soft but not malleable texture that resists the teeth the way cookie dough does. It has a rich, intoxicating smell of sweetened licorice root that's perfectly captured by the Demeter scent, which has a brief anisette smell before the alcohol burns away, after which it's pure licorice cigar, a scent that lasts an hour or so before fading away to reveal an unexpected glaze of sugared vanilla. It's the smell of childhood happiness, and to find it so accurately reproduced in a bottle is one of the unexpected delights of life.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cleaning Up: Prada Amber Pour Homme

That's the bottle for Prada Ambre Pour Homme up there. As you can see, it's a close variant of the women's Prada EDP, which I reviewed yesterday. The metal plate (you can read it in the larger picture if you squint) says

AMBER POUR HOMME: Résine de Labdanum de France, Feuilles de Patchouli d'Indonésie, Cardamom de Guatemala, Safran D'Espagne et Daim.

(That's labdanum, patchouli, cardamom, saffron, and suede.) According to the Prada people,

Prada pour Homme was composed over a rich, complex Amber trail (vanilla, tonka bean, ladanum, patchouli) softened by a Fern accord (geranium, vetiver, orange blossom, myrrh, nirvanolide musk) calling to mind the scent of shaving soap. A fresh ‘Cologne’ facet (bergamot, mandarin orange, neroli, cardamom) and a ‘Suede’ one (leather, saffron, sandalwood) bring extra depth.

But the list of notes and accords is neither here nor there. What does it smell like?

Really expensive, rich, creamy, lathery soap, that's what.

Not at first, and not quite forever. It opens with the expected citrus notes which are gone in a trice (well, a few minutes, anyway), revealing that expensive-soap smell. It's durable; there's nothing but the soap, as if you'd just washed your hands in a posh bathroom, for a good hour or more. Gradually the base notes come snaking up to overtake it. The amber is much, much more subtle than in the women's Prada; I'm surprised they call this an amber scent at all, because it isn't dominant or aggressive. The patchouli is likewise extremely subdued. What I get from the drydown is mostly a sweet, soft leather with traces of that costly soap on it.

Prada Ambre Pour Homme is...nice. It's attractive and well-made; if someone gave me a bottle I'd add it to my collection. There's just nothing really amazingly special about it. What I find baffling is that so many women disdain the original Prada scent (which I, being a slave to ambergris, love) while they simultaneously revere this pleasant but rather ordinary scent.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Amber Light: Prada by Prada

For those of us who love oriental scents, the big problem is finding one that doesn't overwhelm the senses in the heat of summer. Many of them are just too potent, too sweet and enveloping, to wear in the summertime, so we put them away from April through to October. Occasionally, we stumble across one that, while being an oriental scent with all that entails, still achieves a lightness that makes it wearable year-round. Yves Rocher's Voile D'Ambre is just such a scent, and I've only just discovered Prada by Prada, which solves the same problem in a slightly different way.

The official notes are

bergamot, orange, bitter orange, mandarin flower, mimosa, rose absolute, schinus molle, peru balsam, patchouli, raspberry flower, labdanum, tonka bean, vanilla, musk and sandalwood

and although ambergris isn't mentioned (just as in the list of notes for Voile D'Ambre), it's up there, front and centre: from the very first sniff you know that you're smelling an ambergris scent. (Voile doesn't present the amber immediately: it starts off with crisp citrus notes and spices, and introduces its oriental character a little later.) Whereas Voile remains sunny until nearly the very end of its lifespan, Prada starts off slightly dark, despite those citrus notes, and quickly turns darker still as shadowy flowers, indistinct but floral nevertheless, begin to emerge. When the base notes begin to dominate, the citrus and floral notes vanish entirely: we're left with a long-lived ambergris-oriental base which manages to keep its oriental character while staying subtle and close to the skin; this isn't a killer oriental, no Angel (despite some similarity of notes) or Opium. What keeps Prada relatively intimate--relative to most oriental scents, anyway--is the proportions; everything is laid on with a very light hand, despite the eau de parfum concentration. There aren't great heavy dollops of patchouli or vanilla, and even the ambergris is restrained.

The bottle is what has turned out to be the house bottle: a rectangular block with the sprayer mounted off-centre on a metal plate engraved with the perfume notes. (It reads "AMBER, Résine de Labdanum de France, Feuilles de Patchouli d'Indonésie, Résine de Benjoin de Siam et Santal des Indes.") It's a little clumsy to spray--the mechanism is very off-centre--but the chunk of glass has a pleasantly weighty feel in the hand.

Despite the extreme pinkishness of the packaging (the juice is actually a pale yellow, not the pink-orange that appears in the photo above, but the box is very pink indeed), Prada is, as are so many ambergris scents, perfectly unisex. The floral notes are nothing more than what you'd find in many men's scents; it's considerably less floral than that masculine standby Old Spice, to take just one example. But there's money to be had from marketing scents to the sexes individually, so of course there would have to be a Prada Pour Homme, which I'll tackle next.