The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘2012’

Acqua di Parma

Colonia | Colonia Assoluta

Acqua di ColoniaBefore I start, I have to admit that the Acqua di Parma colognes have never really floated my boat, but very kindly the company have sent me some samples to try, and as it’s one of the most popular men’s fragrances I wanted to explore why that might be.

There are lots of things to like about Acqua di Parma Colonia. Its packaging, for starters, is wonderfully elegant: a golden-yellow, linen-textured cardboard tube, which splits exactly in half to reveal the bottle tightly nestled inside.

The bottle itself is a beautifully judged design, in plain glass with gently flared shoulders and a chunky black cap to match. And the typography is lovely: effortlessly stylish, with something of the 1920s about it. The whole package is an object lesson in how to make a product that says ‘classic’ and ‘quality’.

So what about the scent inside? Again, it’s classic and simple – perhaps a little too simple for me. The original Colonia was launched in 1916, and I’m presuming it was always a fresh, citrussy eau-de-cologne, though like pretty much every long-lived fragrance on the market it will almost certainly have been reformulated over the years.

That’s not always a bad thing, and today’s version may well smell more sophisticated than the original; Agua de Colonia by the Spanish brand Alvarez Gomez, for example, may conceivably have been less tinkered with, but by comparison it smells quite crude and harsh.

Not that Colonia has a particularly complex character: it’s intensely lemony when first you spray it on, but as the sharpness of the lemon fades into the background you get the clean, herbal smells of rosemary and lavender. So far so classic eau-de-cologne, but what makes Colonia different is the fact that it’s also blended with rose, which adds an unobtrusively feminine touch – a bit like the artificial jasmine scent at the centre of Eau Sauvage, though not nearly as striking in its effect.

The rose (I think) also makes Colonia smell rather talcum-powderish, which is pleasant enough but comes across as somehow rather old-ladyish – I guess because we associate powdery perfumes with an older generation. It certainly smells clean and fresh, in a soapy kind of way, and perhaps that explains its popularity among men for whom smelling clean and fresh is the main (and often only) purpose of perfume.

Personally I want to smell a bit more interesting than fresh laundry, and my other problem with Colonia is that it doesn’t last: within an hour or two I can hardly smell it on my skin. Again, that may be part of its appeal for men who are a bit nervous about wearing scent of any kind, so horses for courses, I suppose.

After its glory days in the 1920s, the Acqua di Parma company limped along until 1993, when it was bought by three rich Italian businessmen whose money came from Ferrari cars, Tod’s shoes and La Perla underwear. They launched scented candles and the like, but it wasn’t until after the luxury conglomerate LVMH took a stake in 2001 that the Colonia range was extended.

First came Colonia Assoluta in 2003, followed by Intensa in 2007, Essenza in 2010 and Intensa Oud in 2012. I have all of these versions apart from Intensa Oud, and I have to admit that, though I thought I had a fairly sensitive sense of smell, the differences between them are so subtle that I find them almost impossible to tell apart.

Colonia Assoluta was formulated by two of the best-known perfumers around today: Jean-Claude Ellena (creator of Vétiver Tonka, among others) and Bertrand Duchaufour (creator of many unusual fragrances, especially for L’Artisan Parfumeur), which is a bit like getting Debussy and Ravel to compose a duet. The results should be extraordinary, but these two great talents seem to have cancelled each other out: Colonia Assoluta is discreet to the point of invisibility, like a plain grey Hermès jumper.

What Duchaufour and Ellena seem to have done is shuffled a few of the ingredients of the original Colonia about a bit – changing the lavender for jasmine, for example – but it’s all so carefully balanced that the overall effect is almost identical, though you can smell a faint difference after an hour or two. Their work is certainly very subtle and clever, like Gus Van Sant’s frame-by-frame remake of Psycho, but you could argue that it’s equally pointless.  

The same conjuring trick, if it’s fair to call it a trick, seems to have been achieved with the Essenza and Intensa versions: in each of them the ingredients are slightly different, but their smell is even less varied than their packaging (Essenza comes in a black tube, but is otherwise, ahem, a carbon copy).

Brilliant or bonkers? Delicious discreet or disappointingly dull? I’ll have to let you compare them for yourself. Maybe my nose isn’t as super-sensitive as it should be, but I’d be interested to hear what other people think. All the same, thank you to Acqua di Parma for letting me give them a try: they certainly look very handsome on my perfume shelf.

 

Hermès

Voyage d’Hermès parfum

I wouldn’t normally suggest starting your day with a gin and tonic, but that’s exactly what the ‘pure perfume’ version of Voyage d’Hermès smells like when first you spray it on. It’s not really gin and tonic, of course, but it does share two important ingredients: alcohol (which doesn’t in itself smell of anything) and juniper, which adds its bracing, slightly bitter fragrance to both gin and Voyage d’Hermès parfum.

So why not simply spritz yourself with a glass of Gordon’s? It would certainly be cheaper, but if you smell it again after a few minutes you’ll notice that Voyage d’Hermès parfum has more to it than gin. In fact it develops into a very pleasant, slightly spicy-smelling scent, with hints of coriander and pepper and a warm, comforting woodiness underneath.

Launched in 2012, this is in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s second take on the original Voyage from 2010, which (backed by a serious advertising budget) went on to become a big seller for the brand. While the original version is a relatively insubstantial eau de toilette – that is, the liquid in the bottle contains around 10 per cent actual perfume, diluted in odourless alcohol – this revised version is labelled as ‘parfum’, or ‘pure perfume’.

But is it? In industry jargon, to call something a ‘parfum’ generally indicates a concentration of around 40 per cent, with a punch – and a price-tag – to match. Yet Voyage d’Hermès parfum costs only around £10 more than the earlier eau-de-toilette, which seems odd. (For comparison purposes, a 50ml bottle of Chanel No5 eau-de-toilette costs about £55, while a mere 30ml of the parfum would set you back £220.) Nor does Voyage d’Hermès parfum last as long as you’d hope a ‘true’ perfume would; in fact it doesn’t even last as long as other Hermès eau-de-toilettes such as Equipage or Bel Ami, which can see you through the day.

So what’s going on? Like other online reviewers I suspect that what we have here is actually what’s known as an eau de parfum, with a concentration of between 15 and 20 per cent, which has been inadvertently mislabelled as a parfum. That’s a shame, as the world of perfume is mystifying enough without muddling up its terminology. Maybe Hermès can explain.

That gripe aside, Voyage d’Hermès parfum is an attractive, easy-to-wear fragrance, and like its predecessor it comes in a nifty bottle (in charcoal grey rather than the earlier version’s clear glass) that swivels within a protective metal case. OK, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but it’s been nicely done given the cost constraints of a mass-produced scent, and as a perfume it’s a safe choice for anyone who isn’t, perhaps, too confident about wearing anything too offbeat or eccentric. Or who simply enjoys the occasional G&T.

Lalique

Hommage à l’homme

Now here’s a tough one. Hommage à l’homme was the first perfume I reviewed whose London launch I attended and whose creator I met, but it’s also the first perfume I reviewed that I didn’t actually enjoy.

On the whole I dislike knocking things, and generally I’d rather not mention fragrances that do nothing for me, but given the number of new launches each year there are bound to be some duds, so if I’m going to recommend scents that appeal to me it seems only honest to come clean about the ones that don’t.

Lalique has a long association with perfume, going back to 1908, when the ground-breaking French perfumer François Coty commissioned René Lalique to design perfume labels for him. Soon Lalique was designing perfume bottles too, and over the decades the company became known for its innovative techniques and the superb quality of its workmanship.

It wasn’t until 1992, though, that Lalique launched a perfume of its own, the imaginatively named Lalique de Lalique. There are now 19 Lalique perfumes to choose from, and Hommage de l’homme is the fourth to be marketed for men.

Hommage de l’homme marks two decades of perfume production, so you’d hope it’d be something special. My problem is that – to me at least – it smells totally generic, and not in a good way. Yes, I can vaguely smell the violets and saffron that we’re told it contains, but they’re completely overpowered by the same toxic chemical smell that spoils so many otherwise promising men’s fragrances.

Ever since I first recoiled from my first sniff of Dior’s Higher in 2001, every other mainstream men’s fragrance seems to have been stuffed full of the same noxious ingredient, which gets right up my nose. It has a harsh, acrid odour, like you get when your computer blows up – a burnt-plastic smell that I wouldn’t want in a toilet cleaner, never mind a perfume I might spray on my skin.

I’ve been puzzling what this secret component could be, if only so I could avoid it – could it be some kind of natural or synthetic extract of black pepper? Would someone like to tell me? Whatever it is, for me it’s a trend that, like Ugg boots, has long outlasted its welcome. Please, perfumers, move on.

PS: Finally someone has identified it: the much-appreciated Grooming Guru, Lee Kynaston – now we know!

Etro

Greene Street

Greene StreetThe Italian fashion brand Etro made its name with a neo-hippy mix of paisley prints and clashing colours, so it’s no surprise that, among the 25-odd perfumes they’ve released since 1989, there’s the occasional whiff of patchouli and joss-sticks.

Their latest nod in that direction is Greene Street, launched in 2012 to coincide with the opening of their second Manhattan boutique on – you’ve guessed it – Greene Street in SoHo. According to Etro, ‘the western bohemian spirit is the heartbeat of the quarter’, though given that near neighbours include Chanel and Marc Jacobs, Etro’s idea of bohemian may be rather different from yours and mine.

As for the perfume, here’s what they say about it: ‘A symphony of spices create the perfect scent for the modern cosmopolitan man, for those who follow fashion but add their own unique touch of personality to every look. Versatile and distinctive, this perfume also magically adapts a more feminine tone when worn by a woman, thanks to the seductive subtle undertones.’

Got that? Personally I think it smells a bit like that old Body Shop hit from the 1980s, Dewberry, with its slightly choke-inducing mixture of spice and fruitiness. In Greene Street’s case, the scent ingredients include pepper (specifically the ‘pink pepper’ that, in the perfume world, has been so puzzlingly fashionable for the last few years), underpinned with nutmeg, violet and incense, among other things.

I’ve no idea which perfumer created Greene Street, though I see that a number of Etro’s previous fragrances were put together by the French perfume company Robertet; maybe one day we’ll be told, but there again they may be perfectly happy to remain anonymous.

It’s not a horrible perfume, which instantly sets it above most of its competitors on department-store shelves around the world, but neither can I see it becoming one of my favourites. Which is a shame, as much as anything because I think that Greene Street is particularly well packaged and presented.

I haven’t, up to now, included packaging when I’ve illustrated a perfume, but I like this box so much, with its abstract paisley design on the outside and purple inner lining, that I think it’s worth a mention – not least because storing perfumes in their boxes is so much better for them than exposing them to light, and really well-designed packaging is a great encouragement on that front. So two cheers for retro Etro.

 

Angela Flanders

Artillery No. 4

Artillery No. 4Picked up for a fiver in a Vogue House charity sale, entirely on the look of the bottle (you had to move fast), Artillery No. 4 turns out to be an unexpected treat. Launched in 2012, it was created by Angela Flanders, an English perfumer whose scents have an appealingly home-made quality which extends, in this case, to the label’s hand-written ‘4’.

The name is a nod to the location of her shop in Artillery Passage, a splendidly Dickensian alleyway just east of the City of London. But it’s also a good choice for this particular perfume, as No. 4 has a whiff of gunpowder about it, or at least a hint of bonfire-night smoke.

It’s actually based around vetiver, the earthy-smelling tropical grass root that gives a bracingly bitter character to many classic men’s fragrances, but for once vetiver plays a fairly discreet background role. The first thing I smell, apart from that smokiness, is lavender (lots of it), another classic male scent – this is a very masculine fragrance. It’s spicy without being overpowering, with a gentle touch of orange provided by bergamot oil.

I like Artillery No. 4 a lot, though it’s not particularly long-lasting, which is unusual in a perfume that’s based on vetiver. It also comes in a simple yet attractive bottle, which is more than can be said for so many fragrances these days. How nice to stumble across a fragrance that deserves to be better known.

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