The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘pepper’

Guerlain

Derby

DerbyWhat a great perfume this is. Rich and complex yet totally wearable, Derby smells of old-fashioned luxury and style. It’s the kind of perfume that should have been name-checked in The Great Gatsby (surely the worst-written major novel of the 20th century), and yet it was first launched as recently as 1985, when electropop ruled the airwaves and shoulder-pads the size of aircraft carriers filled the pages of the fashion magazines.

It was created by Jean-Paul Guerlain, the last member of the family to run the brand and a great perfumer in his own right: his other triumphs include Habit Rouge, Chamade and the fantastic Vétiver. Derby smells like crushed aromatic herbs when you first spray it on: rosemary and lavender with a hint of mint, but mixed with more exotic things like patchouli and sandalwood. Mace and pepper add a tiny touch of spice, while oakmoss, leather and vetiver give it extra depth and staying-power. After a while it smells more leathery than anything else, though still with herbs and spices mixed in – the scent of a Greek mountainside in summer.

For a long time Derby was quite hard to track down, which added to its mystique, but in 2005 Guerlain relaunched it as part of its Parisiens collection, at which point is was probably (though of course perfume companies never tell you these things) slightly ‘tweaked’ to change some of its ingredients (such as oakmoss) to comply with EU legislation. In 2011 it was repackaged in what I think is a rather cheap-looking balsawood frame, and its price went up as well: today it’s one of Guerlain’s most expensive fragrances, which I think is a shame, as it deserves to be widely worn.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Chanel

Egoïste

Egoiste

The first thing I think when I smell Egoïste is ‘spicy!’ It’s a big, bold, in-your-face fragrance, well-suited to its name, which doesn’t suit everyone – in fact I’ve never thought it really suited me. But if you have the confidence to carry it off it’s a superb perfume of its kind.

Egoïste was created by Chanel’s long-standing in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge, and released in 1990 with the kind of blitzkrieg advertising that Chanel does so well. Possibly too well, since I suspect that fewer people remember the perfume than Jean-Paul Goude’s brilliant film, in which a bevy of deranged-looking models screamed ‘Egoïste!’ while slamming open and shut the blinds of a scaled-down version of the Hôtel Carlton in Cannes.

But back to the perfume. The spiciness of Egoïste is of the sneeze-inducing peppery kind, and for a long time I assumed it was just that – black pepper, mixed with the scents of (among other things) rose, vanilla and sandalwood. But looking at the ingredients again I wonder if at least some of the pepperiness actually comes from carnation – not the scentless supermarket kind but those wonderful old-fashioned ‘clove-scented’ carnations, which have an intoxicating, slightly peppery smell all their own.

The reason I rarely wear Egoïste, though, is less to do with its pepperiness than with another of its main ingredients: vanilla. I’ve no doubt that Chanel uses only the finest quality vanilla in its perfumes, but it’s simply not a smell that – in fragrances, at least – I particularly like. Part of the problem is that, for a while, vanilla was so widely used in perfumes aimed at young women, with the result that (to me at least) it smells too sweet and teenage-girly. And it’s such a foody smell as well: I love what vanilla does to chocolate, but I’m not sure I want to wear it on my skin.

Still, like any work of great skill, I admire its artistry, even if it doesn’t seem to suit me. If you haven’t already tried it then give it a go and see if it works for you.

 

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.

 

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