The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘2014’

Hermès

Cuir d’Ange

Vétiver TonkaThe latest addition to the Hermessences range, created by in-house perfumer Jean-Louis Ellena for Hermès and launched in 2014, Cuir d’Ange is, as its name suggests, a rather ethereal take on the smell of new leather – appropriately enough for a company that started out making riding tackle.

Inspired by a phrase in Jean le Bleu, a 1932 novel by Jean Giono – a kind of French Thomas Hardy – Ellena explains that, for Cuir d’Ange, ‘Using the smells that are my words, I wanted to write a poem to rekindle the love duet between leather and the skin. Its softness and lightness, its tension and its caress. Heliotropes and hawthorn, leather and musk.’

This particular leather smells slightly sweet and rather papery, a bit like skin, which I guess makes sense. I’d like it more if didn’t also include the faintly sweaty smell of hay, which reminds me of another Hermès fragrance, Narcisse Bleu (the hay smell coming from narcissus flowers), but like the other perfumes in the range it’s subtle and sophisticated if, arguably, a little too polite: smart without being particularly sexy. Which, when you come to think of it, makes it a perfect complement to an Hermès suit and tie. But oh for a touch of vulgarity!

 

Ramón Monegal

Dry Wood

Dry WoodThe world of perfume is full of great stories – some of them true, others completely bogus or quietly tweaked by fiendish marketeers. The story of Ramón Monegal is one of the better ones, and it’s also more interesting than most. The nice thing is that it has a happy ending too.

Monegal’s great-grandfather founded Myrurgia, which during the twentieth century became the best-known perfume brand in Spain. Ramón joined the business in 1972, training at Firmenich in Geneva and in Paris with the famous perfumer Pierre Bourdon (creator of Davidoff’s Cool Water and Serge Lutens’ Feminité du Bois).

Ramón created his first perfume for Myrurgia in 1979, but he also went on to develop scents for other brands, from Adolfo Dominguez to Inès de la Fressange. He eventually became vice-president of the family company, but in 2000 it was sold to Puig, the giant Barcelona-based fragrance-and-fashion group, which owns everything from Jean-Paul Gaultier to Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur.

The transition from owner to employee is surely always a difficult one, and though Monegal was appointed development director for the group’s fragrance brands, it must have hurt when, in 2007, Puig closed Myrurgia down. Monegal left the same year, but in 2010 he launched his own brand, and in 2014 he made a remarkable comeback by releasing fourteen new fragrances in one go. All the ones I’ve smelled so far are interesting and unusual, and Dry Wood is no exception.

It’s been described as a ‘sharp sandalwood’, but it also reminds me of a top-quality men’s aftershave from the 1970s, with hints of cedar and pine as well as sandalwood; if you remember the old ‘things happen after a Badedas bath’ adverts you’ll know the kind of thing I mean. It has great staying-power, and after a while smells woodier than it does to start with, though still with a touch of pine and turpentine.

Like all the perfumes in the range, Dry Wood comes in attractively luxurious packaging, also designed by Monegal. The chunky twelve-sided ‘inkwell’ bottles, with their flip-up black domed caps, are apparently inspired by his love of literature, and are contained in black Bakelite tubes, which screw closed in a very satisfying way. Perhaps it’s not surprising that these perfumes are expensive, at £130 for just 50ml (or $160 in the States).

The only problem at the moment is buying them: currently they’re only available from Harrods in the UK or Nieman Marcus in the US, which means they’re not going to get as wide an exposure as I think they deserve. Still, they’re well worth tracking down if you have the dedication (and the cash).

 

 

Acqua di Parma

Colonia Leather

rsz_adp (1)The smell of leather is one of the staples of men’s fragrances. It has an interesting history, too, since at least one of the roots of modern perfumery can be followed back to the perfumed-leather gloves that became fashionable from the sixteenth century on.

Some ‘leather’ fragrances are more successful than others, Chanel’s powerful and historic Cuir de Russie being one of the best. But until the launch of Colonia Leather in May 2014 I’d never come across a perfume that really captured clean new leather’s comfortingly aromatic smell.

I have to admit that this came as something of a surprise, as I’m not a great fan of the other perfumes in the Acqua di Parma range. I can recognise their quality, and I love their packaging, but their combination of lemon and rose just doesn’t do it for me – the rose seems just too feminine a counterpart to the freshness of the classic citrusy eau-de-cologne.

So I could hardly believe my nose when I first sprayed Colonia Leather on. Yes, it contains a definite hint of the Acqua di Colonia signature rose-cologne smell, but that’s quickly overlaid by a beautifully smooth, refined leather smell, like the finest fresh kidskin gloves, or an unjustifiably expensive suede jacket from Hermès. Though it’s not especially strong, its gentle scent stays on the skin for a good half day or more, even if I find it hard to smell on myself after an hour or so.

How such an authentically leathery fragrance is done is beyond me, though it does contain at least one of the classic ingredients of ‘leather’ perfumes, rectified birch tar, which is also used in Cuir de Russie. I’ve pointed out before that a list of ingredients is about as useful in describing a perfume as a list of words in describing a Shakespeare sonnet, but for those who would like to know here are some of the other things in the formula: Sicilian lemon, Brazilian orange oil, raspberry, rose, honeysuckle, Paraguayan petitgrain (made from the twigs of orange trees), ‘red’ thyme, cedarwood, cistus, guaic wood and olibanum.

So who was behind this marvellous scent? As usual there’s no mention anywhere on the Acqua di Parma website or in its marketing material, but I think Colonia Leather’s creator deserves more credit than that. So please take a bow François Demachy, the French perfumer, formerly at Chanel, who has been the ‘director of olfactory development’ at Christian Dior since 2006.

(If you’re wondering, incidentally, what Dior’s head perfumer is doing moonlighting for Acqua di Parma, the answer is that both companies are owned by the luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH, and Demachy also has oversight of its other perfume brands. And as it happens Colonia Leather isn’t his first perfume for Acqua di Parma; he also created Colonia Intensa, which was launched back in 2007.)

At £150 for 100ml Colonia Leather is a lot more expensive than the other fragrances in the Acqua di Parma range, and for now (2014) it’s only available from Harrods, but it’s really worth going to smell, even if you can’t justify spending quite so much on a single bottle of perfume.

Guerlain

L’Homme Idéal

L'Homme IdealI have before me a bottle of Amaretto liqueur, which I’m tempted to drink, though seeing as it’s ten in the morning I probably shouldn’t. I also have a bottle of the latest men’s perfume from Guerlain, L’Homme Idéal, which you’ll be relieved to hear I won’t be drinking either.

The reason for this conjunction is that several reviews of L’Homme Idéal have suggested that it smells distinctly like Amaretto, so I’m testing whether they do – and the answer is that, side by side like this, they don’t. Amaretto smells far sweeter and more almondy, with a touch of bitter almonds that L’Homme Idéal lacks.

All the same, the Amaretto comparison should give you some idea of L’Homme Idéal’s character: burnt-sugar sweet and, yes, really quite almondy. It’s a smell that won’t appeal to every man (though I suspect a lot of women will like it), and in fact the perfume hasn’t exactly been greeted with universal acclaim, though personally I rather like it.

Launched in June 2014, L’Homme Idéal was created by Thierry Wasser, who has been the company’s in-house perfumer since 2008; I’ve reviewed one or two of his other perfumes, including Guerlain Homme l’eau Boisée and the wonderfully refreshing Cologne du Parfumeur. Its ingredients include orange, rosemary, cedar and vetiver, but the two that most people pick up on are tonka beans and almonds, with a bit of leather thrown in.

Tonka beans are used in a wide range of perfumes, and they have a warm, slightly sweet smell, which many people find reminds them of food, especially chocolate and vanilla. The scent of almonds is less often used (though James Heeley’s fine but painfully overpriced L’Amandière smells of almost nothing else), but they’re what give L’Homme Idéal its distinctly foody, burnt-sugar smell.

Luckily – from my point of view at least – L’Homme Idéal isn’t nearly as sickly-sweet as Thierry Mugler’s revolting Angel, or even as cutesy sweet as Black XS for Men from Paco Rabanne. Sweet smells, like sweet tastes, have something a bit childlike and unsophisticated about them, but Thierry Wasser has toned the sweetness down here by surrounding the tonka beans and almonds with the smells of freshly-sawn wood and new leather, as well as a hint of dry, earthy vetiver.

All in all this is a nice enough fragrance, but it’s a bit too muted and polite to really stand out for me. That may well be intentional, since it seems to be squarely aimed at the big middle market, whose buyers are not widely considered to be particularly adventurous or sophisticated. Mind you they’re also considered to be virtually illiterate, if Guerlain’s French-pretentious marketing guff is anything to go by.

Yes, it’s same old tired perfume bollocks yet again: ‘The ideal man is a myth. His fragrance, a reality. Guerlain decodes men’s aspirations and creates for them a concentrate of ideal. The ideal fragrance? Smart, handsome, strong. Three adjectives, three accords for this fresh woody fragrance that will trigger your full potential.’ As a copywriter myself I’d be ashamed to have written that, though I’m sure whoever did write it was handsomely paid. (The box, incidentally, sports a typographical car-crash that seems to read, ‘Be You. No Need to Anymore Have Your Fragrance.’ Got that? Me neither.)

Still, the smell is nice enough, and the bottle is actually far better than most: a chunky glass square with (according to Guerlain) ‘radical’ matt black lacquer sides and a crisply detailed cap that apparently ‘borrows its guilloché detailing from the world of watchmaking.’ I think they should have borrowed the cap from an Amaretto bottle, but there you go.

 

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