Tuesday 30 June 2009

Being Tom Ford: Grey Vetiver

It must be hard being Tom Ford. Despite the obvious glamour and celebrity associated with being one of the world's largest contemporary style icons, I can not begin to imagine how much pressure comes with that role. I have trawled the internet looking at photos of Ford, and in every one of them he looks immaculate. Can Ford have a bad hair day? Unlikely, I'd say. So, how difficult would it be to maintain that face both publicly and privately, 24/7? In business, everything the man touches turns to gold and he is often revered as the yardstick against which other designers are measured. His refined, chic, editing eye and fastidious work ethic has seen him reach dizzying heights. People aspire to be like him, taste his fame, and dream to achieve just a fraction of the success he has enjoyed. Ford must be under enormous scrutiny, whilst competitors and adversaries wait for him to stumble. Expectations are stratospheric every time this man opens a boutique, launches a line, or bestows the world with a new perfume creation. I do not envy this man.

Perhaps I too, have unrealistic expectations of Tom Ford - after all, in my opinion, the man has never failed to amaze and inspire me - his superb tailoring, à la mode accessories and stunning private blend perfumes have me pressing my nose at boutique glass windows the world over. Therefore, when I hear of an impending Ford fragrance release, I anticipate perfection and nothing less! Am I being unrealistic in doing so? Hell no... the man has a crack-team of professionals working around the clock under the Tom Ford Beauty umbrella, and cash and resources coming out the wazoo!

Imagine my crushing disappointment then, dear reader, when I sampled the upcoming Tom Ford men's release Grey Vetiver, set to hit shelves this September. Whilst I appreciate the continuity and cohesiveness of the colour-coded Tom Ford fragrance names (Black Orchid, White Patchouli, and now Grey Vetiver), what I find I don't love is the actual scent itself. The name Tom Ford is a brand synonymous with innovation, but here all I see is simulation... reproduction, replication, emulation. As much as it hurts me to say so, I can already identify a handful of scents that Grey Vetiver is a perfumed parody of.

The opening starts out with some promise... a rush of citrus (maybe bergamot and mandarin?) and winter green, veiled by a palpable smokiness; Bvlgari Pour Homme Extrême immediately springs to mind. I think of someone throwing wet leaves onto a fire in the corner of their garden under a solemn grey sky. (Not wishing to overly romanticise the idea, I'll leave the metaphors at that... think: grubby old gardener in overalls, as opposed to a muscle-flexing pool boy). Without any perfume pyramid available for this release, there is an earthiness present that one normally associates with vetiver scents, and I am picking up what I believe may be traces of black pepper and guaiacwood at its heart.  For those familiar with Andy Tauer's Vetiver Dance, there are parallels one can draw between the two, though the Ford release is less rambunctious than Tauer's. I also recognise hues of Narciso Rodriguez for Him... the thick, damp fougere vibe is common to them both, as is a sense of austerity and coldness. Grey Vetiver I feel will appeal to a more mature set - I can't imagine many twenty-year olds reaching for this before heading out for a night on the town... it is a little more corporate in style; more reserved and unapproachable.

Several hours later, and I am left with Versace Jeans Couture Man on my skin... quite possibly one of my least favourite scents - an odour I've always associated with washing dirty cat bowls under hot running water; with something fatty and jellied at its heart. Thankfully (for those who will like this), the scent's persistence is well above average. Not so great if you feel you smell like cat's breath.

After this experience, I have come to understand that, (at least in my eyes), Ford is fallible. Grey Vetiver is the first of his scents that I cannot and will not wear. Perhaps not the outcome I might have liked, but there are always his four new White Musk Private Blends to look forward to. The Sorcery of Scent will be reviewing White Suede in the week to come.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant

I usually don't shy away from wearing scents marketed to women, and am pleased if I can inspire men in particular, to try something they might not have ever contemplated. Kenzo's Jungle L'Elephant is one such scent that I feel masterfully bridges the gender divide.

Years before his perfume triumphs such as  Thierry Mugler's Alien and Frederic Malle's Vetiver Extraordinaire, in 1996 French nose Dominique Ropion lent his expertise in creating this avante garde spicy floral for the house of Kenzo. The eau de parfum itself represents a striking balance between nature and man... the unrelenting natural wilderness pitted against the ever-encroaching urban environment. There is a bold contrast between the territories, which is cleverly translated into perfume. L'Elephant is rich with exotic fruits, bewitching florals and dark, familiar spices, but presented in such a way that is almost an abstract "hyper-realistic" approach, much like something you might encounter in one of Mugler's far-flung spacescapes. The advertising video spot (below) embraces this idea in a surreal dream-like fashion.

I am a big fan of L'Elephant. Much like the beast itself, this perfume is bold, robust and commanding. The opening accords I liken to those opulent notes present in Tom Ford's Black Orchid... thick, rich and imposing. A blend of mango, heliotrope and ylang-ylang I find totally enchanting here, and the spices are rich and dark; somehow cumin, cardamom and clove lend a dramatic sense of depth and scale to the mix. A lavish combination of vanilla, liquorice, patchouli and amber imbues the perfume with a delicious gourmand appeal. This intense and dramatic composition creates a perfume that can be enjoyed by many, but, this untamed animal is not one for the faint-hearted. It is extremely tenacious and has titanic sillage. 
Applied sparingly, this innovative scent is sure to turn heads.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Ebay: a word to the wise

Buying perfume on ebay can be a frustrating affair. I have personally had some excellent success stories, but have also heard of many disasters. I'm not about to recount any of them here, although I would like to offer some words to reflect upon.

Two days ago I was in two minds about bidding on a vintage bottle of Guerlain's Aprés L'ondee. I had come across the auction with only moments left in the sale... the bottle was beautiful, and much to my surprise, almost full. I was undecided only because I wasn't certain if the object of my desire (pictured) was indeed a vintage formula, or the modern reissue. I knew little of either, to tell you the truth, which is what made this auction all the more appealing. The seller had mentioned in the copy accompanying the auction, that "not much of the smell had been retained". With seven minutes and six seconds left, the highest bid was a modest 13 pounds. How could I lose? At that price (and a bit more), I would be delighted to own the bottle alone!

The hardest thing to decide (with 5 minutes and fourty-two seconds left in the auction), was what my highest bid would be. "Not much of the smell has been retained" had burned into my retinas, so much so that I could still read the words from the screen from behind my closed eyelids. I pondered a moment as I watched the seconds slip by.  At 4 minutes twenty-two, I sent a message to the seller, hoping they would be online and able to answer my query immediately.
"Does the perfume still smell at all? Can you describe it?", I typed and then hit 'send' as the countdown slipped beneath the four minute mark. I waited, all the while watching the shifting obnoxiously loud red numbers blow a wet raspberry at me.
At 1 minute sixteen, after I had completely talked myself out of a possible purchase, I received an answer: "Still smells great but too old fashioned for me", was the reply. Old fashioned?! I thought... sounds right up my alley! 
I scrambled! Fourty-four, fourty three... still no additional bids! Refresh page. Thirty six, thirty five... WHAT IS MY MAXIMUM BID!?, I panicked, twenty eight, twenty-seven...
My fingers punched in a random number 36.01... seventeen, sixteen... I hit the "confirm bid" button. Refresh page. No other bidders! My heart was hammering in my chest and I could hear the blood rushing in my ears... five, four... refresh page!...

After the auction ended I sat for a long while, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal, and for my hands to stop shaking. I felt very self-conscious all of a sudden. The alarming red numbers had been replaced by a dirty red cross. Outbid by a pound. One measley pound! 
I was left thinking about what I might have paid someone, had I come across this item at a flea market, or an antique store. Fifty pounds? Sixty? Eighty? One hundred? Vintage bottles of Aprés L'ondee have sold for up to $600 before, so why in God's name was I bidding a pitiful 36 quid (and one pence)?! WHAT WAS I THINKING?

The moral of this story is simple... when buying what may seem to be the 'deal of a lifetime on ebay', then bid big. Someone out there is having a laugh at my expense tonight as they dab on glistening spots of vintage Aprés L'ondee... one that was had for a pittance.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Life-changing milestones: Vintage Guerlain Vol de Nuit Extrait

Today's blog is not a review... it is more of a monologue about a pivotal moment in my scented journey through life - a life changing experience - so I beg that you please indulge me.

Guerlain has been one of those houses that I have grossly misunderstood. Years ago, whilst working in the industry as a fledgling sales assistant I was uninterested with their perfume portfolio; back then favouring the likes of Azzaro Chrome and D&G Homme over Mitsuoko and Shalimar. "Stuffy and uninteresting" I had proclaimed, with an smarminess that now makes me wince. In the ensuing years however, and with increased exposure to a varied array of scents, I learned to broaden my horizons and came to truly understand that hindsight is indeed, 20/20.
This being said, I have never been really enchanted by any Guerlain release. I had sampled their standard range in downtown doors, but never actively sought after the rare blends and discontinued gems that many people spoke of. Pourquoi??! I hear you ask... well, basically because nothing I tried had ever really knocked me off my feet. I figured 'Guerlain' an industry buzzword which only fuelled my desire to rebel! 

I don't know exactly at which point my perspectives shifted with regard to this perfume house. Perhaps it was a surprising encounter with someone wearing the stirring L'Heure Bleu at a dinner party... or maybe it was whilst browsing this website: a virtual museum built by a Danish man out of adoration and passion for Guerlain and their scented masterpieces. Whatever the case, it was enough to re-ignite my interest. Within a couple of weeks, I came upon a stunning 30ml sealed bottle of vintage Vol de Nuit Extrait on the web, and after much deliberation (and quite unnecessary peer-pressure!) decided it would be mine. A blind buy of epic proportions! 

The package arrived in the mail yesterday and I scooped it from my doorstep like Moses from the 'rushes. I literally heard angels trumpet and a choir of celestial voices. I mean, I had he-ooge expectations... it was Guerlain, it was vintage, it was extrait, and it was $225! I was going to love it, by jingoes! 
I spent a good part of the afternoon turning the wonderful 1960's zig-zag and zebra stripe packaging over in my hands, and photographing the stunning glass flacon. I tugged at the ageing thread that held the seal intact, wondering how I might succeed in opening it with a minimum of damage. I sniffed at the tight neck of the bottle and got nothing but a small dent in my nose that faded rapidly from white to pink. I looked at the receipt for my purchase with a frown... yes, I was going to love it. Wasn't I? 

I decided to sleep on it. 

I found myself staring at the bedroom ceiling at 4am whilst the crickets chirruped outside my window. 

Then the sun came up.

So today was the big day. I thought it rather peculiar that I drank my morning coffee with butterfiles in my stomach; my eyes never really losing sight of the box sitting on my desk. I felt giddy with anticipation, despite having had no sleep, and looking as though I'd been dragged 100 yards under a bus. But with trembling hands, I removed the flacon from its packaging and carefully trimmed the cord holding its stopper in place. I gave it a tug.


I put the bottle in the fridge and went and had a lie-down, feeling as if the world had conspired against me.

45 minutes later I was back at my desk with bottle in hand. I could feel that the stopper had shrunk slightly, so I gave it a gentle twist. The stopper lifted and the seal let out a soft hiss as the perfumed air escaped for the first time in almost 50 years.

I pressed the moist glass stopper to my wrist, waited a few moments and inhaled. I lingered for many seconds... bitter green, opulent jasmine, galbanum, dark woods: and then an unanticipated feeling of boundless beauty and of overwhelming sadness. I felt as though the Vol de Nuit was telling me a story in whispers from behind a cupped hand held over my heart. I was no longer conscious of individual perfume accords - instead I experienced something way more poetic... something monumental. It was a perfume narrative, and the experience almost bought me to tears. I recalled the otherworldly 'sigh' I had heard when opening the bottle for the first time, and felt for a moment as if I'd liberated a genie from her lantern... perhaps one that was lamenting a love lost over the ages; her passion and sorrow swelling on the air. Such love! Such beauty! And such despair!

I replaced the stopper and sat back in my chair for a while, allowing the narrative to tell me of winsomeness and woe, all in striking colour. Never before have I been moved by a perfume in the same way as I have today. As cheesy as it might sound, I feel as though I have crossed some threshold and stepped into a whole new state of consciousness, and it was this vintage Vol de Nuit extrait that held the door open.

I don't know if I just got lucky, or indeed if many of Jacques Guerlain's creations are as absorbing as this one. What I do know, however, is that I will never look at this house, or at perfumery in general in the same way again. 

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Olivier Durbano: Turquoise

Few fragrances seem to excite me more than Olivier Durbano's Parfum de Pierres Poèmes. As reported earlier, the French jeweller/perfumer has just launched Turquoise - his fifth in a series of seven perfumes inspired by semi-precious gems. Touted to be an "ozonic" style fragrance, I can admit to having had some initial reservations. Ozonic scents à la Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Aqua Motu and Kenzo Pour Homme have not done much for me. Certainly a dull synthesis of ozonic molecules will sell hand over fist on the mainstream market, but these releases are simply not my bag. The ability to find an ozonic scent with true substance had eluded me for years - until today.

Any ideas you might have about oceanic cologne clichés  - you can throw them out the window... and don't be fooled into thinking that Turquoise is the olfactory equivalent of a recreational trip to the oxygen bar. Durbano has masterfully translated a vast spiritual history of the stone into perfume... acknowledging the ancients who revered this gem as "fossilised water" or "fragments of the sky". Turquoise is very much grounded; natural; elemental.
Durbano's perfume creations are referred to as "stone poems", after all.

Turquoise opens with a lustrous accord of elemi which is both lemony and pine-like... it is fleeting, though the resinous quality of this component lingers over green coriander and a very fragrant juniper. Already one's mind begins to conjure images of sprawling forests of fragrant conifers... a vista in the wilds of North America, perhaps.
As the scent evolves, one can begin to determine a faint penetrating sharpness that lends a mineral-like quality - one that I would associate with the intriguing 'turpentine' accord listed in the topnotes. Also much to my delight, I recognise the signature Durbano frankincense note; one common to 4 of the 5 pierre de poèmes. This Somalian oliban is husky and almost orange-like - suggestive of weathered stone and earth. 

The heart of the perfume is focused on lotus flower and fucus seaweed... each of these bring an dewy, wet characteristic to the scent. The allusions to water are in striking contrast to the earthy, resinous topnotes, and I find myself thinking of shorelines where sun-heated stones meet cold snaking rivers; the clean mountain air damp with evaporation. It is this clever contrast between the two elements that makes Turquoise such an accomplished and inspired creation.

Myrrh and ambergris provide the foundation for the perfume and again, represent a curious marriage between earthy and marine accords. The innovative balance that has been achieved throughout is where Turquoise's success lies... it represents the stone in its raw form, just as it has been struck from the earth: bottomless oceans of blue juxtaposed against raw and jagged stone.

Turquoise is a genderless eau de parfum, and has above-average persistence. It can be ordered direct from Olivier Durbano's studio in Paris, and will also be rolling out to his regular retail stockists soon.

Monday 1 June 2009

Summer Glam: Bronze Goddess

In May last year I bought a bottle of Estée Lauder's Bronze Goddess having been completely won over by its summery opulence and smouldering appeal. Despite the name, this is one skinscent that deserves to be enjoyed by women and men alike. Much like the swanky advertising graphic suggests, Lauder succeeded in capturing incandescent warmth and solar radience in this bottle... it is the epitome of summer glam, to me. 

Originally released as a summer limited edition as the followup to Tom Ford's collaborative effort with Lauder on their Azzure Oil in 2006 and Azzure Soleil fragrance in 2007; Bronze Goddess now appears to be a mainstay in the Lauder lineup. This finite release saw stocks all but gone by the end of summer '08, but today major retailers appear fully stocked again for summer 2009. And I can certainly understand the reason for resurrecting this amazing eau fraîche skinscent for a second year running. 

Bronze Goddess is shimmering with sun-kissed mandarin and bergamot, and brimming with exotic jasmine, magnolia and orange flower... notes typical of summer in the tropics. But there is a wonderful honeyed, "chewy" gourmand quality to the scent too... its opening burst reminding me of Ford's triumphant Black Orchid. There is a delicious toasted coconut accord and lactic milk vibe that renders this perfume absolutely addictive. One might easily visualise tanned bodies smattered with fragrant oils reaching for chilled pina coladas or jewel-encrusted cellphones offered to them by cabana boys on silver trays. Bronze Goddess is about pool-side glamour and summer evenings of decadence and excess on the French Riviera.

Unfortunately for me, whilst I don my swimming trunks and bare my white flesh to the skies for the first time this season (watching neighbours recoil in horror from their windows like hissing vampires burned by the sun), I am reminded again that I am a million miles away from the Côte d'Azur. The silver lining is that with a spritz of Goddess, I can close my eyes and feel -  at least for a time - like a Hollywood "A"-lister.