The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘fresh’

Frédéric Malle

Géranium pour Monsieur

rsz_20161128_152202_1The world is full of fresh smells, but only a few of them are widely used in perfumery – mainly the sharp but fruity smells of citrus, which give eau-de-colognes their uplifting zing. The scents of mint or pine-needles are equally fresh and invigorating, yet few people want to smell of either, for the simple reason that mint is so strongly associated with toothpaste, and pine with household cleaning products. It’s a brave perfumer who attempts to use either of them in a fragrance, but Géranium pour Monsieur is a brilliant demonstration of how it can be done.

Created by Dominique Ropion for Frédéric Malle in 2009, this is a wonderful alternative to classic colognes, and it also offers something that colognes don’t have: a freshness that lasts not just for a few minutes or an hour or so, but almost all day long. Ropion has cleverly extended the refreshing scent of mint by mixing it with geranium (or rather pelargonium) oil, which has a minty side to it but lasts much longer than mint alone, and a spicy side that is emphasised here with the addition of aniseed, clove oil and cinnamon.

Like all the perfumes that Malle has commissioned for his Editions de Parfums range, this is a rich, complex scent, and its freshness is underlaid with smooth but luxurious ingredients like sandalwood, long-lasting synthetic white musks, and smaller amounts of incense and resinous benzoin. I think it’s a masterpiece, and a fine addition to the wardrobe of any well-dressed man.

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.

 

Guerlain

Cologne du Parfumeur

GuerlainIf there’s one scent that appeals to pretty much everyone then surely it’s eau-de-cologne, the zesty, refreshing blend of lemon and herbs whose (probably medicinal) origins are lost in the mists of time. Its oldest surviving surviving incarnation is the German No. 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser from – where else – Cologne, which you can buy for not very much from pretty much anywhere, but there are hundreds of other versions, from the cheap and nasty all the way up to Chanel’s divine (and divinely expensive) Eau de Cologne.

The basic ingredients of eau-de-cologne are extracts of citrus fruits, which give it its instant freshness, blended with a variety of herbs, usually including lavender and rosemary, which add extra staying-power and warmth. It’s more of a style than a formula, and every different eau-de-cologne has a slightly different combination of ingredients, though they all share a broadly similar character. They all suffer from one drawback, too, which is that they quickly fade away on the skin.

As one of the most historic perfume companies, Guerlain has produced a number of different takes on eau-de-cologne over the years, starting with Eau de Cologne Impériale in 1853, followed by Eau de Cologne du Coq in 1894, the glorious Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat in 1920, and Eau de Guerlain in 1974.

Cologne du Parfumeur was launched in 2010, and is the first not to have been dreamed up by a member of the Guerlain family. Its creator, the Swiss perfumer Thierry Wasser, became the company’s in-house perfumer in 2008, after the retirement of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Wasser’s interpretation of the classic eau-de-cologne retains plenty of citrusy zing, but with more orange than lemon in the mix, which makes it smell slightly sweeter and less astringent than the general run of colognes. The blend of orange used here is particularly ‘green’, which makes a bit more sense if you think of orange flowers surrounded by their glossy dark-green leaves.

Wasser accentuates this ‘greenness’ with tiny amounts of fresh-smelling mint, as well as plenty of lavender and rosemary, those classic eau-de-cologne herbs. I think I also smell a little bit of bracing juniper, which gives Voyage d’Hermès its gin-and-tonic swing. Overall it’s a gentle, appealing scent, and Wasser has given it extra staying-power thanks, it seems, to the inclusion of long-lasting synthetic musks, which add their own soft, slightly sensual touch.

Cologne du Parfumeur comes in Guerlain’s classic ‘bee’ bottle, with fish-scale patterned shoulders, 69 stylised embossed bees on the sides and a rather cheap-feeling plastic top, though customised, hand-gilded versions are available for a suitable fee. What’s most interesting is its label, which includes ‘Thierry Wasser 2010’ – a new departure for Guerlain, and one of the earlier signs that perfumers had started becoming celebrities in their own right.

 

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.

Different Company

Osmanthus

OsmanthusMuch excitement in Weymouth, as the old Woolworth’s site has been transformed into a branch of T.K.Maxx. Even more excitement when, on our first visit, what should I pluck from the trashy mass-market scents you’d expect to find in a discount outlet but a brand-new bottle of Osmanthus by The Different Company.

What a highly collectible perfume by a fairly obscure, high-end brand was doing in the Weymouth branch of T.K.Maxx I have no idea, but there it was, ours for the princely sum of £16.99 (recommended retail price €142).

Created by the much-admired perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena (now the in-house perfumer for Hermès) for the company he founded in 2000, Osmanthus gets an admiring review in the even more widely admired Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, and you can see why.

It’s a gentle, sweet but subtle scent, whose plush peachy centre is reminiscent of Guerlain’s timeless Mitsouko, though it seems to lack either Mitsouko’s strength of character or its mysterious staying-power. Yet Osmanthus has magic of its own, and its apparent evanescence on the skin proves something of a disappearing trick – for after putting a little on the back of my hand and noting that it didn’t seem to last very long, what should happen but that an hour or two later, as if from nowhere, its fresh, fruity scent would suddenly snap into focus again, almost as strong as when I first sprayed it on.

I’ve no idea how it’s done, or even whether the effect was intentional, but my guess is that it’s got something to do with the way Osmanthus’ peachiness bonds with the perfume’s other elements, some of which are a little surprising, like castoreum, a resinous compound extracted from beavers that has a leathery, animalic smell and is also found in Chanel’s wonderful Cuir de Russie.

Natural osmanthus, incidentally, is an attractive evergreen shrub which, in sheltered conditions, will grow to the size of a small tree. It grows wild in the Himalayas, China and Japan and was first introduced to European gardens in 1771, where it became known as Sweet Tea or Fragrant Olive. In the autumn it bears thousands of small but intensely fragrant white flowers, whose intoxicatingly sweet scent gives the plant its botanical name, Osmanthus fragrans.

Its fragrance, indeed, is remarkably powerful, as we discovered on an autumn visit to the enchanted garden of Brécy, near Bayeux. From the massively stepped levels of the formal gardens, which form a kind of vast single staircase up towards the Normandy sky, we recognised osmanthus’ heady scent a long time before we finally located its source, from a couple of dark columnar trees planted close against the south wall of the church, outside the gardens themselves.

Despite the sheer intensity of its fragrance, this is one of the only powerfully sweet scents I know that one can never smell enough (unlike, say, Madonna lilies, whose scent becomes overwhelming after a while): there’s a fresh lemony edge to osmanthus that makes it refreshing and intoxicating all at once. Enjoy Jean-Claude Ellena’s perfume by all means, but plant the tree wherever you can.

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