Saturday 28 February 2009

Czech & Speake reissue: Dark Rose

This week I received notification that British aromatics creators Czech & Speake are set to re-release a trio of sophisticated and beautifully presented scents in their Prestige Floral Collection of fine fragrances. The line up celebrates the return of three classic Czech & Speake scents: the vibrant and youthful Rose (1988), the sensual floral Mimosa (1986) and the exotic 2003 launch: Dark Rose. I have been hoping to try Dark Rose for a number of years now, but with its deletion from the C&S portfolio several years ago, it made it almost impossible to source.  At last my opportunity finally arose this morning when I received a very generous C&S sampler from London, comprising each scent from their aromatics line.

Dark Rose is a tenacious blend that excites from the get-go. The opening is sprinkled with fragrant saffron before the strikingly rich rose, precious woods, synthetic oudh and white musks combine to create a perfume that is unmistakably Indo-Arabian in nature. It is not unlike every existing  Montale aoud/rose release in both its style and composition. To a Western nose that has had little exposure to middle-eastern inspired perfumery, Dark Rose will excite and bewitch; but for those familiar with Montale's aouds and true Arabian mukhallat oils, it may fail to impress.

In August last year I blogged about Mukhallat El Emirates - a robust and opulent elixir that now to my nose, I regard as the absolute kissing cousin to Dark Rose. Comparing the two back to back, I am almost unable to determine any differences in smell... any variation that does exist, I would likely attribute to the quality of materials used in each composition. The mukhallat contains natural oils and extracts, whereas the C&S release is comprised of a long list of copy-cat synthetics (many of which are clearly declared on the back of the sample card). Dark Rose's persistence and sillage are fleeting (perhaps 2 or 3 hours, tops), whereas a few drops of the Arabian oil will imbue the air around you for the better part of an entire day.

I would be very interested to obtain a sample of the original 2003 Dark Rose cologne, just to determine if there are any nuances (both subtle or obvious) that differ from the reissued formulation. I might say that Dark Rose 2009 does manage to cut a path amongst many banal mainstream and niche releases, and its interpretation of Indo-Arabian perfume is sound; however when given the opportunity to measure it against the real thing, Dark Rose falls just a little short.

Sunday 8 February 2009

By Kilian - Straight to Heaven

In 2007 I stumbled across a compelling image of a £50 million diamond-encrusted skull exhibited by English artist, Damien Hirst. This profound artistic statement in celebration against death instantly reminded of ornamental El Dia de los Muerto skull depictions prevalent in Mexico; as well as rich pirate iconography common in Caribbean cultures. At the time, I was wowed by the way Hirst had transformed a human skull into an extravagant objet d'art. I'd long since filed this image away in the repository of my mind, however it skipped into my consciousness again just a few weeks ago, when a friend introduced me to a fragrance from the By Kilian perfume portfolio. The scent in question: Straight to Heaven: white crystal

Straight to Heaven, is a scent inspired by Martinican Rum - the alcoholic life-blood of the Caribbean islands. Its opening is dark and fruity - thick with the semi-sweet aroma of fermenting sugarcane and dark molasses, distilled and stored in old wooden barrels. With it, there is a sense of a warmth... like the radiating sting of an aged rum as it slips down the oesophagus.  Several accords drop anchor at the heart of this fragrance - most notably, cedar and Indonesian patchouli: each of which contribute a dense earthiness to the mix. But it is over a swelling tide of white musk that this composition stays afloat... the musk is sharp, crystal clear and well-refined.
When experiencing the total sum of these accords, one can easily visualise the ghosts of marauding buccaneers patrolling the Spanish- American coastline with the jolly roger hoisted high above their heads. It is a scent that is nostalgic and in the here-and-now. It is a fragrance that is commanding and masculine, but also one executed with enormous care and delicacy.

The brand itself is the culmination of French cognac heir and perfume marketer/developer Kilian Hennessey's efforts, and furnishes men and women with exquisite fragrances of unrivalled elegance and uncompromising luxury. This is clearly evident in the quality of the materials used, and the treasure chest-like presentation of the flacon in a satin-lined box with a lock and key closure. I am also very taken with the 1 litre barrel-shaped fountain, that allows you to refill your bottle at home. 

Such treasures I would also regard as objets d'art, and feel they would certainly take pride of place in any self-respecting pirate's plunder!

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Molinard Pour Homme II

This year, the celebrated perfume house Molinard will celebrate 160 years of perfume production. Founded in 1849 in Grasse in Provence, France; Molinard remains to this day France's oldest entirely family-run business. Known in over 40 countries internationally for their vast history and well-crafted perfume portfolio, Molinard have enjoyed many successes spanning the decades, including the ever-popular and completely bewitching Habanita (1921) which is a cherished scent that is still in production today. In years gone by, this house has presented their enchanting aromas in opulent Lalique glass and Baccarat crystal flacons... an indicator that their olfactory artistry deserves to be treasured and revered.

On a recent visit to Vienna I was introduced to a number of perfumes from the Molinard line. As has now become tradition on any trip abroad, I look forward to the opportunity to purchase and wear one brand new scent for the duration of my visit, so that memories of my stay will easily be conjured at a later date with one single sniff from the bottle. In Austria I visited countless perfumeries and grew tired of the same offerings from store to store... that is, until I stumbled upon the Molinard Pour Homme series. Presented as a trio of scents packaged in stylish flacons as white as a sugared almonds, I sampled the line and fell instantly for Molinard Pour Homme II.

Product images sourced from

Pour Homme II is a sensual woody fragrance that evokes a feeling of immediate presence... bold, polished and assertive. A delicate balance of Sicilian mandarin, and juniper provide an aromatic opening top note, however one can instantly recognise fragrant cedar and bourbon vanilla being at the heart of this scent. It represents an interesting paradox... MPHII is thick with lush accords of Brazilian orange and Crimean coriander; yet somehow husky and arid - displaying deep pastel tones of patchouli from Singapore, vetiver, and dry hay from La Crau.
As the scent dries down, the vanilla takes a step to the side, and the richer woody/patchouli notes come to the fore.
If I were to liken it in style to an existing release, I would suggest that this offering is parallel to Yves Saint Laurent's Kouros, though completely devoid of the civety, animalic accords that render Kouros a 'love it or hate it' cologne. It does have a pronounced 'dustiness' though, that is akin to the YSL release. I can also see Pour Homme II as quite possibly being the inspiration behind Gaultier's Fleur du Male - though again, without the somewhat thick, disorienting, almost animalic orange blossom.

With the scents from the Molinard Pour Homme line, exceptionally good value for money can be found. PHII is a wisely constructed fragrance that draws upon the company's 160 year-old perfume narrative, and translates it into a vernacular still very valid and relevant today.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

ZARA Perfumed Water - Vetiver

In fragrance circles, often the question is asked whether or not the price of a perfume directly equates the quality of the scent itself. Certainly, the cost of materials and oils used in perfumes vary depending on their source, scarcity and character, but on the whole, there are still some extremely well constructed scents to be had for just a handful of coins. With the global economy in crisis, consumers as a whole are now looking for alternative purchasing options that won't break the bank. The Perfumed Water series from Spanish design house ZARA is a prime example of how just a little money can be well spent.

Teaming up with fellow Spaniard Antonio Puig, Zara have created 7 perfumes in the line to date - 3 for men (Vetiver, Ambar and Sandalo) and 4 for women (Lirio de Agua, Rosa Bulgaria, Flor de Azahar and Tierna Peony). The range offers essences cleverly constructed using 3 main accords that are declared on the box, in 50ml and 200ml bottles. Zara's strategy here is to offer strikingly beautiful perfumes, using a minimum of ingredients, which ultimately makes them very affordable. Exactly how affordable? I hear you say... well, I have noticed a tiny variation in cost from country to country, but the 50ml is offered at approx €13 ($16 USD) and the very generous 200ml bottles at around €20 ($25).
At those prices, why wouldn't you want to indulge in the big one?

I personally was very taken by many scents from the men's and women's line, but the standout edt for me, was Vetiver. Whilst Puig's interpretation of vetiver here might be far from "true vetiver" in a niche or botanical sense, it does conform to Zara's ideal of producing highly appealing scents for the mainstream market.
The opening spritz reveals bracing grapefruit and tender orange blossom which immediately revivify the senses, and of course the third accord forming the base: vetiver. The effects of this scent are felt instantly... sharp, crisp, and uplifting and is much in the same style as a lively splash cologne that exemplifies a state of pristine clean and immaculate grooming. (Perhaps the same instantaneous effect can be enjoyed when applying Thierry Mugler's Cologne; though Vetiver I feel is less 'transformed' than Mugler's creation; and somehow more aromatic).

In contrast, I have since added Ambar to my personal collection of Zara's Perfumed Water as to me it represents the antithesis to Vetiver. It is a wonderfully warm, spicy honey-like winter indulgence that evokes thoughts of blazing fires and comfort food. I am sure to revisit the ladies line again too as I feel there is much to enjoy from this series.