Saturday, 21 February 2015

Review: Carthusia - Numero Uno, The Aromatic Meets Modernity

Carthusia's wonderful logo - Karma Sutra for Botanists

At last, winter is creeping back to it’s fearsome lair and my frozen battered nose has begun to function again enabling me to write about one of my favourite genres, the ‘aromatics’.

The aromatic scent is typified by a profusion of culinary and medicinal herbs, often accompanied by citrus and woody notes that remind us of warmer climates. A successful aromatic evokes an olfactory journey to a picturesque Mediterranean landscape. A failed one makes us smell like a Greek salad. Aromatic fragrant waters were produced long ago, with one of the eldest being Santa Maria Novella’s Acqua di Colognia which was created in 1533. It thrills me to imagine that many of today’s traditional eau de colognes continue to utilise ingredients once grown by monks in cloister gardens. History in a bottle.

A historic cloister herb garden

Numero Uno, the 2007 launch from Italian perfumery – Carthusia, is a fine example of aromatic splendour.

In recent years, our noses have become used to what the online community term ‘beast mode’ scents i.e. those whiffable from many metres away and more tenacious that a cat protecting it’s catch of part of a chewed off vole’s leg. Arising from a trend of heavy amber orientals, patchoulis and Arabian perfumery influences, these uber strong scents have led many people to be unimpressed by more subtle and fleeting aromatic and citrus scents, judging them to have ‘poor performance’ in comparison. You can understand their point as being able to actually smell your perfume is an important factor!

Numero Uno bridges the gap between the delicate (and sometimes fleeting) nature of the traditional aromatic and the more contemporary tastes of the ‘beast’ lovers. It does this with the inclusion of a dominant patchouli note, which alongside stabilising woody and balsamic base notes, gives it a rich and long lasting density that will appeal to both the traditionalists and a modern audience.

So what does it actually smell like?

‘Appealingly therapeutic’ is my primary impression. A strikingly natural blend of herbs and citruses imparts an uplifting sensation that is typical of its genre. With this in mind, it reminds me of the iconic Clarins ‘treatment’ fragrance – Eau Dynamisante in that there is a distinct mood elevation associated with its application. Interestingly, I can also smell one of my favourite quirky notes from childhood, that of Creosote, the sticky wood protector that gave me enormous olfactory pleasure when my Dad treated our garden fence in the summer months. I notice this also in Heeley’s Le Tigre and in Penhaligon’s Bayolea. The patchouli note is almost ‘savoury’ alongside it’s companions. With an absence of any sweetness, it takes patchouli into aromatherapeutic territory rather than oriental cosiness or chypre grandeur.

Carthusia have thankfully priced it at a reasonable cost, with 100 ml currently retailing for 75 Euro on their website. As I become increasingly more aghast by the spiralling cost of fragrance, it’s pleasing to see that Carthusia are selling significantly under the £1 per ml mark.

Although marketed to the male customer, Numero Uno is appealing to my feminine nose and I’d happily anoint myself with it without any fear of an overly butch aura.

If you’re a fan of the aromatic you might like to read my article on Nobile 1942 and the fine ankles of Jude Law. Patchouli lovers can read about hippy heritage in my rave review of Jovoy Psychedelique.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Guest Writing - A Fragrant Fairy Tale, The Power of Perfume by Viv Lowery

This week, fiction writer and poet - Viv Lowery, brings us a fragrant fairy tale. A treat to read to our future perfumistas in bed tonight...


There was once a  king who ruled over a very unusual kingdom called Perfumia whose subjects had developed, over the years, a remarkable sense of smell.  They were acutely aware of the power of different fragrances.  Every family had their own small perfumery and knowledge of essences and herbs passed down through the generations.  Each one prided themselves on their superior knowledge and skills in this all important area.

The king being wise encouraged and shared their passion and, to this end, held a huge competition every year to find the best perfume produced in the nation.  Not only was the winner rewarded with the recognition of their supremacy in this most important sphere but they were also appointed as the King’s personal perfumier for the following year, a position conferring great status and power.

In the months leading up to the competition a veil of secrecy descended over Perfumeria, every family working hard to perfect their blend of ingredients without alerting their competitors.  Herbs were gathered in the dark of night and family members were sent far and wide to search for new and powerful scents.  It was not unknown for the weaker or lazier families to steal ideas or even essences from their more skilful neighbours and guards were set throughout the night to ensure this didn’t happen.

As competition day approached activity reached fever pitch, each family determined to win and prove themselves the best in the land.  The king himself judged and, thus, the perfumiers made a close study of his preferences in past years and any experiences he may have had which might influence his choice.  For example, if he had visited nearby lands where exotic spices were used they may be tempted to channel their perfume in that direction.  If he had spent time on the coast they might devise a scent incorporating these smells.

The king loved his wife dearly and this year they had become the proud parents of a baby girl they had named Fragrancia.  She was a beautiful and happy child who brought them a great deal of joy. The king was looking forward to taking her to the competition for the first time so that everyone could admire her and on the morning of the event he had her dressed in her finest clothes.  

The first perfumier approached and presented his family’s fragrance for consideration.  The king smiled politely, savoured the fragrance and made note for marking later.  So the competition continued throughout the day with perfume after perfume being considered.  The king showed no preference throughout the proceedings.  He may have had his favourites but wanted the result to be a complete surprise.  

Towards the end of the day an unusual competitor entered the fray, one who had not taken part before.  The king was very surprised to recognise the son of one of his wife’s handmaidens.  He couldn’t remember the woman’s name or her function within his household but he had seen the lad around the palace helping out. The young boy approached the king shyly and offered up his contribution. ‘Hello young man, this must be the first time you have entered the competition.  The boy nodded without speaking, waiting for the king to try the fragrance.  The king looked puzzled.  The boy was very young and, since he lived in the palace with his mother would have no access to the knowledge, experience or skills required to produce a successful perfume.  There were established families who contested the prize every year but the boy belonged to none of them.  The king carefully opened the glass stopper of the primitive container and gingerly sniffed its contents.  After a second he took a further sniff then another.  A smile began to spread across his face and he positively beamed.  

The crowd watching this amazing spectacle gasped in surprise.  This had never happened before. No reaction had ever been shown by the king during the competition.  It was unheard of and the perfumiers watching were not amused. They had expected this upstart’s perfume to be dismissed as inferior rather than so obviously enjoyed by the king.  They were even more annoyed when the king held up his hand and announced ‘The competition is over.  This is the winner, holding the boy’s vial up high.  I have never in my life smelled such a wonderful fragrance!!’  The perfumiers were horrified but he was the king so they could do no more than march out of the palace in disgust at this insult.

After the dust had settled several of the most experienced among them set out to discover more about the king’s new choice and the nature of the winning fragrance.  What they found out startled them at first but then filled them with admiration for the young boy and his inventiveness.  His mother was nursemaid to the young princess and had gathered over the year essence of sweet baby smells that her son had combined into the winning entry.  If the king wished to be reminded of his precious child when he was away from the palace and was  greatly missing his family, he had only to open the stopper on that bottle to be reminded once more of his precious child and smile again.
Viv Lowery 2015

Viv is a member of the Bare Writers collective, who have recently published an eclectic anthology of poetry and literary fiction named High Tide. You can preview and purchase High Tide on Amazon by following the link below.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Little Cat With A Surprising Belly - Avon Occur, Vintage Civet

My little stinker

The most thoroughly obsessed of the perfume community will understand that a scent purchase often stems from a peculiar chain of events that takes place online. The route that led me from Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit to a 40 year old Avon pussycat can be explained thus:

  • My beloved Vol de Nuit EDT had almost run out.
  • I searched the Escentual sale to price up a new bottle but was seduced by my long yearned love - the Parfum Extrait.
  • Whilst waiting for my golden propellers to arrive I perused the web to read discussions about the extrait concentration of  Vol de Nuit and noticed that Avon’s classic cheapo chypre – Timeless has been likened to Vol.
  • I performed an Ebay search for Timeless and discovered that it was winsomely populated by the kitsch novelty bottles of vintage Avon colognes from the 60s and 70s, Timeless, Occur, Moonwind, Charisma and Sweet Honesty were abundant.
  • I encountered a curious little glass cat who had no box and despite being nearly full of ‘Occur’ was likely to have gone off given that he’s roughly my age, perhaps older. I found him charming and bought him simply for his quirky feline wiles.
  • He arrived, he hadn’t gone off.

I was stunned. I even emailed to seller to ask the provenance of the whiffy feline. Apparently he came from an elderly aunt who collected cat figures. She must have displayed him so I can only guess that the opaque milk glass bottle somehow managed to deflect the ravages of light and kept his liquid belly in tip top condition.

He’s very pungent. On first whiff I smelt an archetypal fougère, so close to Brut that I wondered if the splash-on style hole could have been refilled at some point? Comparing notes on Fragrantica, the similarity could be explained. Both share a whopping dose of oakmoss, musks and bergamot, peppery floral notes (carnation for Occur, geranium for Brut), plentiful herbs and spices and a sweet base of all sorts of sticky tonka-tastic and honeyed wonders.

When the initial Brut sensation wore off, up crept (or pounced) the feral animalistic heart of the fragrance for which it is famed; civet and (the now banned) nitromusks. I knew at this point that I was certainly smelling the wondrous filth that is Occur.

If you’ve ever smelt Francis Kurkdijan’s Absolue Pour Le Soir or Parfum D’ Empire’s Musc Tonkin, you’ll recognize the heady whiff of animalic uber-notes. In fact Occur contains an even stronger dose of ‘eau de urinal’ than either of them. It takes at least half an hour for it to emerge, but when it does I am walloped by the wonder of pre-IFRA fragrant toxicity. I am very happy to poison my skin with this stinking brew. Fortunately, a creamy combination of white florals and milky sandalwood sit alongside this pissy whiff, recalling aspects of Arpege and Ma Griffe that render it more splendid than rancid.

Fittingly, my first ever perfume was by Avon. I can't remember which one as I was less than ten years old. My mum sold Avon and gifted me a plastic daisy shaped brooch filled with a solid scent that I recall smelling deliciously of honeysuckle. Perhaps Avon was responsible for the inception of my obsession?

My lucky American readers will be able to pick up these quirky Avon vintages for a mere few dollars on the USA Ebay site. They are collectible but not valuable given the enormous number of them produced in the 60s and 70s. In Europe prices are a little higher given that, although very common, Avon was not quite as mightily prolific over here. 

Take a peak at these curious Avon creatures lifted shamelessly from Ebay, I wonder what scented wonders their bellies contain?

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Saturday, 3 January 2015

2014 - My Year In Perfume, Moments Of Beauty In A Saturated Market

Looking back over my 2014 fragrance habit, I’m reminded of a feature written by Tania Sanchez in Perfumes, The A-Z guide. Sanchez describes her concept of our journey through a fragrance obsession in 6 specific stages leading from the childhood curiosity of our parent’s fragrances through to an enlightened conclusion. In this, the 6th and final stage, she suggests that we might experience:

“Stage 6: Enlightenment.
Absence of ideology. Distrust of the overelaborate, overexpensive and arcane. Satisfaction in things themselves”.

This resonates with me.

In 2014 I was grateful to get my nose around a number of inventive and complex creations from the world of ‘niche’ fragrance (whatever that words means nowadays). However, I smelt a much larger number of ‘The Emperor’s new clothes’. By this I mean the fragrances that were churned into the market at high prices and high speed, often trading on the concept of ‘niche’ to justify the hoohaa. People talked about them and bought them. No doubt caught in the decadent grip of Sanchez’s earlier Stage 5:

"Stage 5: Decadence.
An ideology of taste, either of the heavy-handed or the barely there. The age of leathers, patchoulis, tobaccos, ambers; or, alternatively, the age of pale watercolours in vegetal shades. An obsession with the hard to find."

In 2014, brands that were initially marketed to the wealthy Middle Eastern consumer continued to be devoured by folk on ordinary incomes as online discussion groups were often dominated by ‘an ideology of taste’ that favoured the skilfully manipulated desire for the ‘private blend or the exclusif’. Additionally, some superstar perfumers increased the number of products in their own ranges at flabbergasting speed. This led to vast spending, often resulting in fragrance fans leaving Facebook groups to avoid the excessive shopping temptation created by discussions (and then giving in and coming back again such was the lure!).

The sheer number of 2014 releases from niche brands meant that many scents replicated what we have already smelt before. I found myself opening sample packages without the thrilling anticipation of the possibility that they could contain some sort of nose nirvana. This is not a good mental state for a perfume blogger!

However, it wasn’t all bleak.

Occasionally I’ll smell a perfume that penetrates my imagination so thoroughly that I can type up an article swiftly and with great excitement. Others require much pondering and a painful number of hours at the screen. When I smelt the smouldering Anubis by Papillon Artisan Perfumes, the imagery it created for me was instant and exhilarating. It was by far the most thrilling post to write this year. Click here to take a peek at David Hemmings’ marvellously wild face, some fatally seductive sirens and one of the most successful indie releases of the year.
Danger for lost seamen - Anubis

Thrills aside, my favourite article of the year was my post on Guerlain’s understated masterpiece - Idylle. I believe this rarely discussed scent is deserved of the accolades that Guerlain’s stable of historic classics receive in profusion. Click here to read why I thought it to be the misunderstood outsider.

The relationship between fragrance, music and celebrity continued to excite me as my imagination frequently allotted a musician to my perception of a scent. The gargantuan floral punch of Byredo – Flowerhead brought indie powerhouse singer Beth Ditto to mind which resulted in one of the odder of the Odiferess reviews. Whilst Nobile 1942 – Infinito evoked decadent sensations of late nice dancing in the woods at summer music festivals.

Betto Ditto in technicolour

My own wardrobe in 2014 gained some pleasing additions, with an increased fascination for floral, green and aldehyde notes occurring. My most appreciated new entry was Clinique - Wrappings, an overwhelmingly picturesque outdoorsy whiff, sparkling with aldehydes and unlike anything I’ve ever smelt in a perfume bottle. Its originality was amplified by my perceived stagnation of the overfilled market. That Clinique have not released this scent on their standard counters is bizarre.

The feeling of Wrappings, a bracing bottle of oxygen and nature

More greenery arrived in the form of a new bottle of Guerlain - Vol De Nuit, when I say ‘a bottle’ I actually mean the extraordinary object of great glassy desire that is the Parfum Extrait. Whilst I adored my (nearly empty) EDT, I felt a compulsion to be able to hold this gilt propellored creature in my hands and stare lovingly at it whilst anointing myself. I wasn’t disappointed.
My pretty thing

I clearly went through some sort of ‘grown up lady’ phase befitting for my forties as I frequently reached for Lanvin - Arpege, Chanel – No 5, Van Cleef & Arpels - First and Lubin - Nuit de Longchamp. Interestingly, my new job in September inspired me to dress with increased sophistication for work and make the effort to apply make up at stupid-o-clock in the morning. Perhaps these scents helped me to feel suitably groomed?

To round up, here is a list of my most frequently worn and adored scents of 2014 (you can click on those in a different colour to read a review) :

Gucci – EDP (The discontinued caraway & leather oriental)
Guerlain – Vol de Nuit
Chanel – 31 Rue Cambon (which has now been outdone by a last days of December purchase of the blissful Cuir de Russie)
Lanvin – Arpege
Yves Rocher – Voile D’ Ambre

And a list of those which I do not yet own but seduced me at first whiff:

Scent on Canvas – Brun Sicilien
Guerlain – Idylle (in EDP form)
Clinique – Aromatics in White
Narciso Rodriguez For Her – Musc Eau de Parfum Intense (the flanker with the dusky pink metallic bottle that smells oddly like the opening of Serge Lutens – Tuberuese Criminelle)
Serge Lutens – L’ Orpheline
Hermes – Santal Massoia
Parfums Nicolai – Maharanih
Chanel – Jersey

As I consider my 2015 articles for Odiferess, I shall be searching for the magnificent amongst the mediocre and aim to bring you some reviews of genuinely innovative scents. As usual I’ll be letting my imagination investigate some eclectic cultural nonsense in which to tell you about them! In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your favourite scents of the year.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Merry Smelly Christmas!

I would like to wish my readers a wonderful Christmas and a very happy and fortune filled New Year! Thank you for your support over the year, which is crucial to keep up my enthusiasm. It is most appreciated.

I shall return in the New Year with a report on what fragrances made my nose quiver with joy throughout 2014. Until then, take a peak at these beautiful 1950s festive Lanvin adverts.

Merry Christmas!

Prize Winner - The Library of Fragrance, Eggnog Decant


Congratulations Aaron Streets! 

You have won a decant of the Eggnog fragrance. Please send me your address for the package and it will be on it's way to you soon.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Review: Eggnog - The Library of Fragrance (Demeter), a festive gourmand. Plus a giveaway!

 Festive eggy booze

Last Christmas I wrote a post about two fragrances that bewitched me with the scent of Christmas trees, a natural and outdoorsy tribute to the festive season. This year I’ve hit upon the opposite – a cosy pleasure to be consumed indoors.

Those of you who know my tastes will be aware that gourmands have not made a frequent appearance at Odiferess. Although they are adored by many I personally prefer to devour sweet food within my mouth rather than daub it onto my skin. My slightly wobbly belly confirms this. Christmas however is a time of excessive gastronomy, so with that in mind I bring you the boozy vanilla confection that is The Library of Fragrance (Demeter in the USA)– Eggnog.

Despite being an occasional boozehound, I’ve never drunk an eggnog. Does it actually have eggs in it? I’ll leave that to those earnest gym types that swill a raw one down for its muscle building properties. It does appear to contain more delicious ingredients though and they smell superbly festive in this creation.

Eggnog is primarily a cinnamon scent with a great wodge of boozy rum and sweet (and slightly burnt) vanilla underpinning it. The cinnamon serves to lift the composition and create a spicy top note that stops it from being too cloying. It’s really rather clever. As I write I am wearing Ambre de Merveilles by Hermes on one arm and Eggnog on the other. The instant swoop to gloopy base notes that has always rendered ‘Ambre’ my least favourite of the Merveilles trilogy, makes for an interesting comparison. A little of Eggnog’s spiciness would be a welcome hit of perkiness here.

Ye olde vanilla plant

The main reason that I want to draw your attention to Eggnog is that it makes a £9.99 alternative to a significantly more expensive scent. Lovers of L’ Artisan Parfumeur’s Vanille Absolument will discover distinct similarities in this creation. Whilst Vanille Absolument lacks cinnamon, it does have a powerful clove note that provides a similarly peppery spiced opening. The booze and vanilla combination is almost identical, arousing sensations of times past and the great voyages of the spice routes. The ghosts of many a pissed pirate sozzle amongst Eggnog’s replicant rum cask.

You can find Eggnog in the UK at larger Boots stores and on the Boots website. If you want to chance your luck at a freebie, I am giving away a 10 ml decant from my bottle for one reader. To enter, leave a comment below or on the Facebook page and answer my question: Why do you think gourmand fragrances are so popular amongst the fragrance community? If you can’t be bothered just say hello and I’ll enter you anyway! Entry is open until midnight Sunday 21st December UK time, winner will be announced shortly after.

I’m sorry that the draw is only open to UK readers due to our daft postal laws. I apologise on behalf on my country. 

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Ultimate eggnog recipe, courtesy of Jamie Oliver
Serves 8
     3 cups (700ml) whole milk
     1 cup (240ml) heavy or double cream
     3 cinnamon sticks
     1 vanilla bean pod, split and seeds removed
     1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish
     5 eggs, separated
     2/3 (130g) cup granulated sugar
     3/4 cup (175ml) Bacardi Dark Rum, or bourbon