The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘cumin’

Christian Dior

Jules

JulesSage isn’t everyone’s favourite herb, though turkey stuffing wouldn’t the same without it. It’s used less often in perfumery than in cooking, but Jules shows what a great ingredient it can be in the hands of a brilliant perfumer.

The ‘nose’ in this case was Jean Martel, who worked for the French fragrance company Givaudan in the 1970s and 1980s and deserves to be far better known, not least because he also created that 1970s classic, Paco Rabanne for Men.

Jules was launched in 1980, with a brilliant advertising campaign featuring posters by René Gruau, arguably the greatest fashion illustrator of the last century, which helped the first bottles sell out in record time. Martel combined sage (which has a slightly catty smell) with cedar and other things like wormwood, lavender and bergamot. To me the result smells like sage and slightly peppery leather, though there’s a long list of other ingredients, including cumin, sandalwood, oakmoss, jasmine, musk and rose.

Despite its initial success, Jules has since been overshadowed by the success of Kouros, which was launched the following year. Created for Yves Saint Laurent by the brilliant Pierre (Cool Water) Bourdon, Kouros shares Jules’ clean / dirty / sexy character, and both scents belong to the same fragrance ‘family’, the fougères – a style of perfumes, usually aimed at men, based on a combination of lavender and coumarin (originally derived from tonka beans but usually synthesised).

Of course, Kouros’ ongoing popularity may be because it’s inherently superior to Jules, but actually I think it’s more to do with the fact that over the years Kouros has benefited from regular advertising, while Dior seems to have forgotten that Jules ever existed, which I think is a terrible shame.

To make matters worse, while you can buy Kouros pretty much anywhere, Jules has become ridiculously hard to find: I don’t know anywhere in the UK that sells it, and even in Paris the only place that seems to stock it is the department store Bon Marché, though you can buy it from Dior’s French website. Given Dior’s apparent lack of interest, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been discontinued, but I’m glad it’s still on sale, even if it’s now a rarity.

I can only hope that one day they decide to invest in promoting it again and making it available to all – but in the meantime if you want something special that very few other people will have, get over to Bon Marché.

Cartier

Déclaration d’un Soir

Déclaration d‘un Soir‘This new masculine scent sensation is perfect for grand evenings – an impulsive perfume capable of sweeping away taboos, brazenly daring to say the unsayable and conjuring up moments of unforgettable bliss. Like a magic wand, it unleashes the emotions and feelings…’

Yes, it’s perfume bollocks time again, though at least this time at least it’s for rather a nice scent: Cartier’s Déclaration d’un Soir. Launched in 2012, it was created by their in-house perfumer, Mathilde Laurent, and like Cartier’s earlier (and now quietly discontinued) Must de Cartier Pour Homme, it has a surprising amount of rose in it for a men’s fragrance.

But don’t let that put you off: just as there’s no reason (in the right context) that a man can’t wear pink, so there’s no reason that the scent of rose, if it’s mixed with the right ingredients, has to smell floral and girly. That’s the brilliant trick of Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, which – figuratively speaking – puts the smell of rose in a rather masculine cedar box.

Déclaration d’un Soir isn’t as striking as Feminité du Bois, but it’s got an appealingly plush feeling, with a slight (and not unpleasant) hint of damp soil. Déclaration d’un Soir does have a woody side to it, too, but in this case Mathilde Laurent has used sandalwood, which adds its own sweet spiciness to nutmeg, cumin and pepper.

(Incidentally, what is it about recent men’s perfumes and pepper? Virtually every ‘mainstream’ scent I’ve smelled in the last few years has reeks of the stuff, as if some secret society had ordained that all men’s perfumes had to include masses of pepper. I guess it’s just a fashion, but it makes most of them smell about as subtle and appealing as a pepper spray or a short-circuited computer. Luckily the pepper in Déclaration d’un Soir is pretty restrained.)

It’s a nice scent, as I say: warm, rich, long-lasting and – to my mind anyway – completely unisex. The only shame is that it comes in such a fussily designed bottle (the same as Cartier’s best-selling Déclaration), with its silly clip to stop you depressing the spray-top instead of a cap.

Far more of a shame, though, is the fact that Cartier have given up on Must de Cartier Pour Homme, which I liked even more and which came in that rarest thing: a really beautifully designed bottle. But that’s the perfume industry for you: a triumph of economics over aesthetics.

 

 

Frederic Malle

Cologne Bigarade

Cologne Bigarade 1Every morning for my breakfast I have tea, toast and home-made marmalade. It’s one of my favourite things, and I love the bittersweet smell of Seville oranges, which only appear in the shops for a couple of weeks around this time of the year.

In fact as I sit here writing this post in January, Roy is busy cooking marmalade next door, and the powerful odour of bitter orange (known as bigarade in French) is suffusing the house from kitchen to attic.

So it could hardly be a better time to review Cologne Bigarade, created by the perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena for the French fragrance curator and marketeer, Frédéric Malle (nephew of the film director Louis Malle). Launched in 2001, it was one of the first of the Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, and to my mind it’s one of the most immediately appealing and easy to enjoy.

On first – I was going to say ‘glance’, but I suppose I should say ‘spritz’, it smells like a simple but high-quality natural scent, with the exact mix of sweet green freshness and slight bitterness that you get from orange peel and its bitter pith.

You could, I guess, just bottle Seville-orange extract and have done with it – and apparently Jean-Claude Ellena did commission a special new essence for this scent, obtained by molecular extraction. But like all good perfumes Bigarade Cologne is ultimately a clever recreation of what seems, on the surface, like a simple natural scent, using a careful balance of other ingredients to enhance and support the main ingredient.

In this case, Ellena has added a bit of hay and grass – or rather their synthesised essences – which makes the orange even fresher somehow, then subtly underpinned it with a little cedar-wood and rose, adding extra depth and staying-power. You could even say that these extra ingredients suggest the smell of the leaves and the twigs of orange trees, though perhaps that’s going too far.

(Actually, unless you concentrate very hard you can’t really smell them at all; but then we’re so suggestible when it comes to scents that once someone has told you that a particular ingredient is present, you’re more than likely to ‘smell’ it whether it’s actually there or not.)

To me Cologne Bigarade also has a very slight and not unpleasant sweatiness, which (from a short trip to the kitchen and back) is part of the authentic Seville orange smell. In perfume that faint sweatiness is often derived from cumin, and I wonder if there might be a touch of that classic curry spice here too.

Cologne Bigarade is not, perhaps, the most complex perfume on the market, but like most of Jean-Claude Ellena’s fragrances it’s rather more thoughtful and unusual than the general run. Given that he’s also the in-house perfumer for Hermès, it immediately made me think of Hermès’ classic Eau d’Orange Verte, which is also based on the scent of bitter oranges. Though that perfume was originally created by Françoise Caron in 1979, Ellena developed a new version in 2004 called Concentrée d’Orange Verte.

Eau d’Orange Verte is one of my all-time favourite fragrances, yet comparing them side by side, it smells sharper and fresher, but perhaps also slightly less interesting than Cologne Bigarade, which also seems to have much more staying power (a rare quality in a citrus-based cologne, though you can also find it in the fantastic sherbet-lemon Monsieur Balmain).

All the fragrances in the Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle are expensive, and Cologne Bigarade is no exception, even if its packaging is extremely smart. The heavy, plain-glass bottle has a chunky black cap and comes in a slide-out, black foam-padded box, which in turn slides out (with some effort) of a scarlet card wrapper. If you have money to burn then there’s an even more expensive version called Bigarade Concentrée, which I’ve smelled as a sample and lasts even longer than Cologne Bigarade. The concentrated version also seems to have less of that faint sweatiness about it, which I suspect many people would prefer; I think I do too.

Either way, a fresh but unusual cologne is a wonderful thing to have, so full marks to Jean-Claude Ellena and Frédéric Malle for giving men something a bit different to wear. In a similar vein, though with a very different smell, is Malle’s Geranium Pour Monsieur, which I hope to be able to review before long; watch this space.

 

Aramis

Aramis

AramisSnobbery seeps into most areas of life, including perfume, and it’s never a very attractive trait, though it’s something that most of us have been afflicted by at one time or another – at least until we learn better.

As our knowledge of perfume grows, a lot of us get a bit embarrassed about the mass-market fragrances we might once have liked. In some cases that’s fair enough: I don’t imagine that, if I went back and smelled the M&S aftershave I was given for a teenage birthday, I would think ‘wow, what a fantastic example of the perfumer’s art’. On the other hand, by turning our backs on popular perfumes we risk throwing out the Brut with the bathwater.

Aramis illustrates this danger very well. It might have been around as long as anyone can remember. It might (at least until fairly recently) have been as cheap as chips. It might not have come in the most stylish bottle, or the most alluring packaging. Yet it’s actually a wonderful, sexy, high-quality fragrance, which deserves its place on any perfume-lover’s (cool, dark) shelf.

Aramis was launched in 1964, the same year as the original Brut for Men. The first perfume in Estée Lauder’s all-male range of fragrances and skincare, it came to Britain in 1965, and at first was sold exclusively in Harrods – which just shows you images can change.

It was created by one of the finest perfumers of the time, Bernard Chant, who worked for the perfume multinational, International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), and died in 1987. Chant made his name with the women’s perfume, Cabochard, which was launched in 1959. Combining the dry, leathery smell of isobutyl quinolene with bitter orange, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and various kinds of spice, it was a powerful, confident scent, and quickly became a best-seller – though it has been repeatedly reformulated since, so today’s Cabochard bears little or no resemblance to the original.

I mention Cabochard at some length because, when Chant came to create Aramis for Men, it seems he simply (as far as anything is simple in perfumery) adapted the formula for Cabochard, taking some of the floweriness out and emphasising its leathery-woodiness. The result is an equally punchy fragrance with lots of depth, but just enough rough-edged masculinity (including the sharp spicy-sweaty smell of cumin) to make it appealing to the stubbliest of men.

Aramis is spicy, sweet and long-lasting, and though its spiciness initially made me think of Chanel’s Egoïste, a quick comparison reveals that the latter is much more floral, with a strong dose of vanilla that Aramis lacks. If it doesn’t smell as unusual as some of the men’s perfumes I love, that’s as much as anything to do that it has been around for so long that we’ve since smelled lots of cheap copies, making it seem less original than it actually was in its time.

Bernard Chant went on to create a number of other fine perfumes for Estée Lauder’s various brands, including Azurée (1969) and the well-known Aromatics Elixir (1971), as well as the men’s fragrances Aramis 900 (1973, reviewed here), Devin (1978) and JHL (1981), which were repackaged and relaunched in 2009. They’re all worth exploring, and there’s nothing about them to be snobbish about.

Random recent round-up

Following on from my brief review of Francis Kurkdjian’s latest men’s fragrance, PLURIEL, here are three more recent releases that I’ve been given by generous perfume companies, but that don’t appeal enough to me to merit giving them a full review.

I’ll start with Cartier’s DECLARATION L’EAU. Like the original Déclaration, L’Eau comes in a thin, high-shouldered, easy-(if you’re me)-to-knock-over bottle, and has the same fiddly, easy-to-break spray-closure. It’s also almost impossible to get the bottle back inside the box, thanks to an awkward cardboard liner.

As for the fragrance itself, it’s pleasant enough, smelling fairly fresh and natural when you first spray it on, with lemon and slightly sweaty hint of cumin. It’s not something I’d rush out and buy when there are so many better perfumes to choose from, but at least it’s not objectionable, though the curry-sweat cumin smell doesn’t really appeal to me.

Hermès’ TERRE D’HERMES EAU TRES FRAICHE smells reassuringly expensive, as you’d hope from this brand, with a fresh mandarin eau-de-cologne start; interestingly a trace of spicy cumin comes out after a while, similar though not quite as insistent as the sweaty cumin smell in the Cartier Déclaration L’Eau. At least this is a perfume you actually want to try on your skin.

But what I really like is the classy clear-glass bottle, with its moulded-H base subtly tinted in Hermès orange. It’s an elegantly minimalist design with minimalist lettering, topped with a metal plate and a clever new cap that twists down to reveal the spray.

By way of contrast, Paul Smith’s EXTREME SPORT is horrible in every way. According to its website, ‘the top notes are full of energy and freshness from Florida oranges and a double shot of frosted spearmint. The floral heart of the fragrance combines the original geranium floral facet, with the freshness of lavender – and the unforgettable dry-down signature of incense is enriched with vibrant cedarwood’. That’s one way of describing it: to me it smells like toilet cleaner.

The mingy-looking bottle is no better. A blue-glass square with a cheap-feeling plastic cap, it’s adorned with a nasty out-of-focus transfer of a stop-watch on the back: so sporty. Even the name is naff: ‘Extreme’ and ‘Sport’ being surely two of the most overused words in mass-market men’s perfumery.

Admittedly it’s cheap as perfumes go (under £40 for 100ml), but I don’t think that’s any excuse. In fact all the Paul Smith perfumes are a bit of a puzzle to me: he’s universally admired as such a stylish, switched-on (and by all accounts personally charming) designer, but the perfume packaging has none of the style of the fashion brand, and I haven’t smelled a single perfume in what’s now quite a large range that I’ve liked.

Could the answer be that Paul Smith simply isn’t interested in perfume, or has no sense of smell? Of course I know that designers rarely have much to do with the scents sold under their name, but you’d think that someone as apparently exacting as Smith would make sure that the fragrances were more on brand than they are. For now it’s a perfume mystery.

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