Monday, 20 April 2009

XerJoff XJ 17/17 Homme - A Debonair Leather

I haven't had much success wearing leathers as far as perfume is concerned. Which is a shame really because, well, I'm a bit of a rocker at heart. My 'inner' Tommy Lee sports lewd tattoos and lace-up leather trousers and sneers and picks his nose a lot, but unfortunately (or rather, fortunately) in my everyday outward appearance, I am quite possibly the polar opposite. I'm well-groomed, well-mannered, well-dressed (most of the time) and, well, have been in search of a sexy raw leather scent to pick at the stitches and fray the edges up a bit. In my hunt, I've run the gamut of leather scents, trying each of them on for size - from the napped suede of Richard James' Saville Row to the crude, unrelenting tannery fetor found in Knize Ten. But just as the moody Tommy was set to turf the TV through our lounge plate-glass window in despair, I chanced upon the very remarkable XerJoff Homme. (And not a moment too soon, because, well lets face it, televisions can be outrageously expensive these days).

XerJoff is a high-end Italian perfume manufacturer whose current markets include exclusive doors in Italy, Russia, France and the UK. XerJoff represents the most precious realm in the world of luxury perfumes to date, where the most accomplished blending of handpicked essences meets with impeccable Italian craftsmanship. XerJoff Homme is just one scent from their XJ 17/17 Collection - a line that epitomises excess and maximalism at its best.  Here, each flacon has either been meticulously crafted by hand from a single block of quartz; or has had master Murano glassmakers breathe life into them, straight from the raging kiln. Each hand-numbered edition is presented on a hand-carved ebony base and is embossed with 18kt gold and decorated with rubies.  I wasn't joking about excess, now was I?

My inner Tommy is unimpressed with such frivolousness, however the shopping-bitch and admirer of immaculate design in me is. In all seriousness though, besides the exemplary bottles, I am very taken by the scent. XerJoff Homme is a debonair leather: one that is raw and resilient like a 1940's bomber jacket, but one that is also unexpectedly tender. Faint tendrils of gently permeating rose and dusty iris not only diminish the bitterness of the leather, but impregnate it with a sense of dignified sophistication. The first hour or two focuses on this persistent leather - dark, heavy (like I like my metal), and commanding. Several hours after application, I find myself cloaked in molecules that allude to a more dashing, genteel individual. An interesting paradox, actually, and one that perhaps echoes the contrast between my polished public face, and my unruly inner one. This contrast is striking and something I emphatically take pleasure in.  

One thing is perfectly clear here - and that is that this fragrance profits from the use of materials that are of exceptional quality and character. By no means a straight-forward leather, here there exists echoes of whimsy and gentleman's colognes from yesteryear, whilst at the same time, it is curiously, very much in the here-and-now.

XerJoff have three current Collections: XJ 17/17, XJ Shooting Stars, and XJ Casamorati 1888. I am very much an admirer of scents from all these lines. But that is a blog for another day.

For more information, visit:

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Postcard from Syria: Aleppo Pine

A few days ago a friend returned from an exotic trip to Damascus, Syria. She had been swept away by the far-flung desert landscape, colours of the bustling medina, and the charm of the call to prayer ringing out over the rooftops. Before her departure, I asked her to attempt to source some local natural oils, and when she returned I see she did not disappoint. She bought home with her, 13 half-tola bottles of oils she'd sourced from deep in the souq in Damascus. When I explored these concentrated oils, I could see that several of them were synthetically made - disappointing, but not altogether unexpected. My damas rose, violet and yuzu oils seemed just a little too candied and 'perky' when compared against natural oils from an authorised, more reliable source. Nonetheless, there were some wonderful natural treasures amongst the kitsch bejewelled bottles. Most note-worthy... an oil extracted from the Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis).
To be honest, I had never heard of, nor smelled the Aleppo until yesterday. A trusted fellow student of perfumery strongly recommended I hunt down this oil, and swore that I would not regret it.

The Aleppo pine is native across the Mediterranean on both the African and European continents, and extends across asia minor to Lybia and Syria, where in fact historically, it was said to have first been described. Aleppo, the largest Syrian city, is said to be one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth, with human habitation extending back to the 11th millennium B.C. Historically, resins from the aleppo pine were said to be used as a component in ancient Egyptian embalming rituals... and its timber for ancient ship-building.

Aleppo has olfactory markers that differ somewhat from "standard" pine oils and resins. As a child living in New Zealand, I would tramp out into the lush green bush with friends and collect discarded cicada skins and chunks of resin from Pinus radiata trees that had been gored by wild animals. Sometimes, the sap had not fully hardened and inevitably we would return home at the end of the day with our hands and clothes covered in a tacky honey-like mess that smelled like sickly-sweet pine. I came to dislike the smell as a result, and even nowadays as an adult, have taken a wide berth around pine-scented air fresheners, colognes and household solvents. But... there is something special about the perfume of aleppo oil. Yes, it opens with a brief characteristic piney-green scent, but one that lacks the über-resinous aroma that I had perhaps first anticipated. There is a very transparent flash of lemon / lime citrus that cuts through the green aroma and is really very refreshing. The predicted "needle" odour is diminished further by a beautiful resinous cloud that is both warm and slightly bitter... not at all sappy and glacé. Perhaps the most remarkable element to this aleppo oil, is its wonderful woody quality. The bark of the Aleppo tree is deeply ridged, firm and very fragrant. The oil transfers that woody characteristic extremely well - it imbues the air with a sophisticated perfume of fragrant wood drilled from the bole, and, astonishingly, the dry rocky earth to which it is rooted.
I am very much enamoured with and appreciative of this recommendation. Diluted to 10 or 15% in perfumers alcohol, I could quite readily wear this as is.

If you, or anyone you know plans to visit a distant land where they might be able to source top quality aleppo pine oil, I extend this recommendation to you. No perfumer's palette should be without it.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Armani Privé - Cuir Améthyste

On rare shopping excursions to Copenhagen, I am sure to pass through the magnificent Beauty & Cosmetics Hall at Illum, Copenhagen's equivalent to Saks Fifth Avenue. Not only have they the most opulent shopping environment in the capital, but they also offer many exclusives and niche perfume lines that cannot be found anywhere else in the country. The Armani Privé scents are amongst these rarities, and a trip to the big smoke just isn't the same without a stolen spritz of Cuir Améthyste on my wrist, or the end of my scarf. It is the smell I have come to associate with splendour and magnificence whilst on my satisfying retail junkets.

Beautifully presented in refillable bottles crafted from exotic African kotibe wood, and each crowned with a polished amethyst stone; Cuir Améthyste is a rich, dramatic eau de parfum that evokes an atmospheric aura of glamour and mystique.
There is very little minimalistic about this perfume - it is unashamedly excessive... a possessing blend of vegetal resins, woods, citrus, florals, ambergris, patchouli and composition leather.
The key notes of coriander, violet and rose are apparent from the get-go, but almost instantaneously, one will witness darker aromatic accords (patchouli, labdanum and benzoin) stepping forward. At the heart of this scent, a plum-coloured leather note resides which carries with it a lavish feeling of nobility and assertiveness. It is not at all timid, however it is delicate and refined - a synthetic leather executed with mastery. 

Much like Giorgio Armani's Privé couture collections, there is a sense of order, refinement and intuitive editing at work here. The individual accords drift past in successive order, one by one, much like his chic catwalk models. There is an astonishing harmony between the singular components whereby one is not diminished or overwhelmed by the next. In this regard, Cuir Améthyste is rather linear, ordered, calculated. But to my nose, it is calculated lavishness and extravagance. 
As a male, I am not fearful of wearing Cuir Améthyste even though its marketing is targeted more towards women. I find its depth, complexity and synthesis of accords rather masculine, despite the pretty florals in the mix. It also has impressive sillage and persistence (7+ hours) which is always a plus.

In Scandinavia the Privé line are profoundly expensive (the 50ml luxury presentation retails for $255 equivalent, and the refills for $149)... prohibitive prices that have rendered a purchase next to impossible for me. Up until now, that is. Somewhere along the line, it would seem Armani have lost a tight grip on their distribution, as the 50ml refills are currently selling in several discount retail chains in the US for under $30. When taking into consideration the quality and exclusivity of this outstanding elixir, this presents a staggering saving and big win for the consumer. As a result, I now own my "Posh Copenhagen Smell", and am seriously considering a second purchase.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Prince Matchabelli: when the collector bug bites...

I'm a shameless collector of many things and my assortments are varied. Ask me anything you like about the works of Swedish etcher/engraver Axel Herman Haig, or icons from the Cuzco school of painting. I also manage to stockpile select vinyl records and antique Victorian jewellery boxes. But then, of course, there is perfume. When the collector bug bites, it bites hard... and I find it increasingly difficult to keep a tight hold on the purse strings. With almost 700 commercial perfume miniatures stowed away in my collection, I have only recently decided to shift my focus and assemble a variety of charming vintage flacons by US perfume company Prince Matchabelli.

I don't recall exactly when it was that I first saw a depiction of someone's phenomenal Matchabelli collection in a book I borrowed from the state library in Perth, but I can clearly remember being wowed. The aesthetic value of these charming little crowns ignited a pang of envy in me, and that feeling stayed with me for a long, long time.
Only recently, some 7 or 8 years later, I stumbled upon a Matchabelli miniature suspended on a neckchain - boxed and in mint condition - and I knew then and there that I had to own this rare little gem. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. I went on to spend a good week trawling the internet and ebay (admittedly whilst I was supposed to be working, and indeed whilst my wife slept beside me in the wee hours of the morning) hunting down a bargain. I had the bug! 

What I hadn't quite anticipated though, was the cost. Only recently, a miniature Matchabelli flacon for Infantia - a scent created in 1937, and one barely larger in size that a €1 coin - sold on ebay for $350 US. A current listing of a black glass Ave Maria (1929) empty crown bottle is this minute fetching $190 US, with 4 days and 2 hours remaining in the auction. And an optimistic seller in Germany is presently attempting to hock off (using the 'Buy it Now' feature, no less) a selection of 10 empty Matchabelli bottles for a very tidy €7,777. Waaaay out of my league, I'm afraid. 

The thing that perhaps strikes me the most, is the present demand for these bottles more than 80 years after the Matchabelli Perfume Company opened its doors in 1926. But the history of the company is every bit as enchanting as the flacons are captivating. The establishment began after the Georgian Prince and ambassador to Italy, Georges Matchabelli and his wife Princess Norina Matchabelli immigrated to the USA as penniless refugees after the Bolshevik Revolution forced the Russian nobility to flee for their lives. Georges was an amateur chemist that enjoyed creating perfumes for his friends and family, and thus he and his wife strived to accumulate the very modest capital required to set up their company. A magazine interview led to increased exposure of the brand, and suddenly Matchabelli became famous for their blends that were presented in colour-coded crown-shaped bottles that had been designed to replicate the (lost) crown found on the Matchabelli coat of arms. Many successes followed, and despite the dissolution of their marriage in 1933, and Georges death two years later in 1935, the Matchabelli brand went on to endure the decades. More than 50 perfumes are associated with the name, and today the brand belongs to Parfums de Coeur Ltd. Sadly, the modern-day packaging and design aesthetic doesn't even come close to that seen in its heyday. From this perspective alone, I understand why these royal treasures are sought out and coveted by collectors. It is a blessing that the history forged by the Matchabelli's is being recognised and preserved; yet a curse for me - the collector with a 'less-than-sufficient' expendable income.