The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘smoke’

Aesop

Hwyl

Since 2004, when its first store opened in the corner of a Melbourne car-park, Aesop has developed into a global brand, thanks to its simple but sensual products, individually designed boutiques and large injections of private capital (most recently from Natura Cosméticos, the Brazilian version of Avon, which took full control of the brand in 2016).

Given that fragrance was always part of its products’ appeal (founder Dennis Paphitis got the original idea after adding essential oils to hair bleach to disguise the smell of ammonia), it’s no surprise that Aesop has flirted with perfume over the years. In 2005 it launched Marrakech, followed by Mystra in 2006, both of which were subsequently discontinued, though they still have their fans – perfumer Paul Schutze still has his roller-ball version of Marrakech, which he suspects was a commercial disaster not because of the fragrance, which he loves, but because ‘you use so little scent with the roller-ball that you never need to buy another one’.

In 2014 Aesop returned to perfume with Marrakech Intense, followed by Tacit in 2015 and now, in 2017, Hwyl. Though the name is Welsh, the scent is inspired by smoke floating through a Japanese forest of hiba cypress trees (the conifer Thujopsis dolabrata, also known as Hiba arborvitae), and that’s pretty much what you smell when you first put it on. The formula, which was devised by French perfumer Barnabé Fillion (who previously contributed to Marrakech Intense), also includes a good dose of thyme with hints of spice, moss and vetiver.

Hywl is my favourite of the three ‘new’ Aesop perfumes so far, though I think it’s rather overpriced at £83 for 50ml, especially as it doesn’t last for more than two or three hours on my skin (Aesop kindly sent me a bottle to review). It enters an increasingly crowded field of perfumes based around the smells of incense and smoke, most of them aimed at men, and while it’s nice of its kind, I can’t say that it’s especially original. But then perhaps Aesop knows that its customers aren’t looking for ground-breaking scents: just something that’s easy to wear and fairly on-trend, which Hwyl certainly is.

Heeley

Phoenicia

rsz_heeley2Though there’s some dispute about its exact origins, the word ‘perfume’ most likely derives from ‘fumes from a substance being burned’, so you could say that Phoenicia, the latest fragrance from Yorkshire-born, Brussels-based perfumer James Heeley goes back to perfume’s roots.

The name refers to the ancient civilisation that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean around 1000BC, but Phoenicia’s smell is instantly evocative of childhood bonfires, just as his earlier L’Amandière evokes an almond orchard in spring.

‘I loved the way my hair smelled after a bonfire,’ Heeley recalls, and he’s captured the memory using a mixture of cedarwood, oud, smoky birchwood and vetiver.

Luckily there’s more to Phoenicia than smoke. ‘I’ve always loved the concrete of labdanum ciste,’ Heeley says (the densest refined extract from the fragrant Mediterranean shrub Cistus ladanifer), ‘which has a slight smell of dates or prunes.’ Adding this to the formula gives Phoenicia an attractive hint of dried-fruit sweetness, which balances the smokiness is a very attractive way. It certainly lights my fire.

Comme des Garçons

Eau de Parfum

Christmas is coming, and as a long-standing fan of over-indulgence I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting fat on Christmas pudding with brandy butter, washed down with a large glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, ideally in front of a roaring log fire. Alternatively I could just blow my own socks off with a generous splash of Comme des Garçons’ delicious Eau de Parfum a.k.a. Christmas in a bottle.

Launched in 1994, this was the Japanese cult fashion brand’s first foray into perfume, but if there was nothing unusual about that, it’s rare for a first perfume to make such a big impression. Partly it was the design of the bottle, a slightly egg-shaped oval with an off-centre cap and no obvious way to stand it up.

That might sound a bit annoying, but I think it’s one of the most stylish and sophisticated perfume-bottle designs of the last 20 years. Eccentric it may be, but Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo’s design is so sleek and refined that it makes most other perfume bottles look cheap and tawdry by comparison.

The Sniff Box is about the scent, though, and what a scent this is. Created by Derby-born perfumer Mark Buxton, it’s not for the shy or faint of heart, for this is one of those fragrances that carries everything (and everyone) before you. The first thing you smell is cloves – or rather clove oil: in fact this is a distinctly oily concoction, for among the other ingredients are nutmeg oil, cinnamon-bark oil, cardamom oil, geranium oil and coriander oil. To me it even feels slightly oily on the skin, which gives it an added touch of luxury and also sets it apart from the vast majority of alcohol-based fragrances.

With ingredients like those it could hardly be anything other than spicy, but Mark Buxton cleverly added a touch of the resinous, smoky smell of incense with cedarwood, labdanum and styrax. The result is wonderfully rich and strange, and though some people find it overpowering, to be overpowered like this is like drowning in a butt of Malmsey: what a way to go!

 

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