Monthly Archives: February 2013

The danger of expectations… But the pleasure when reality is even better.

I have been waiting like an impatient child for the day wonderful paradise COW get their first precious bottles of the Van Noten/Malle amazingness. The joy when it turns out there was a sample enough for me to get some precious perfume on my wrists before the shipment arrives.

So I spent a beautiful spring day contempleting whether my expectations had been met or not. Or not really. After about ten minutes I knew.

Dries van Noten’s olfactory fusion with Malle’s knowledge and ambitions is divine. After an initial meet-cute between what on me smelled like almond cookies with apricot jam in a Meditteranean citrus garden… the most amazing seductive colonial romance took over. Wrapped in incredibly soft well-balanced heart and basenotes. I sound uncritical but I was instantly (for many instants) genuinely seduced by this creation and I am so happy that it has been made. Even the delay (it arrives in store a few months later than planned) feels positive because it is obvious that this is careful dedicated work.

It is one of the most comforting yet elegant perfumes I have ever smelled and seems to have just the perfect amount of everything. It soothes and caresses and feels like a conversation about life where you never have to worry about being misinterpreted.

For something that is defined as an oriental woody fragrance I would say that this is quite soft. In the drydown you have a gentle floral feeling that rests with great poise on the tonka bean, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg. I would say that a general impression of this fragrance is this collected poised feeling. It is centred. And very balanced. A special spotlight should be put on the sandalwood. It has been many years since sandalwood grown in a sustainable way was available for perfumes. The comeback itself is great news. To see it used in this gentle way is lovely.

Apart from the already mentioned notes the perfume features guaiac wood, saffron, jasmine, musk, bergamot, lemon, patchouli, and peru balsam. Reading this, my guess is some of you, like I did, would expect a more heavy or demanding eclectic kind of fragrance so for those who hesitate for such reasons I want to stress that it is really quite gentle. The jasmin is more present for a moment, after a couple of hours on me, and then I sense this almond/apricot thing of unknown origin in the top notes. But the dominating sensation is something I would describe as balsamic, spicy and woody.

The nose behind this fragrance is worth mentioning: Bruno Jovanovic. He has not made that much noise prior to this but my guess is we will hear his name a lot in the future.

I will love this perfume many times. I think it works on almost everyone, except people who are arrogant and mean. If you are one, stay away.

A great video about the collaboration.

I often help someone find a signature scent or create a perfume wardrobe for example by finding additions to their work fragrance that smells to safe for romance, or their romantic fragrance that doesn’t feel right for work. Or an upgrade, for example when someone has been wearing the same favorite perfume for 5-10 yrs (not at all unsusal) and feel that they still like it… but have outgrown it. Then we look for something similar, for example the same heart notes, but something more complex or mature or dark added. As we walk through life our inner child often stays the same, but we go through experiences, challenges, times – that add shades to our personalities. Shades, depth, complexity. When you wear a perfume that is right for you, it will reflect many parts of who you are. Then you get that feeling of you just smelling like you because someone created a beautiful formula that defines some of your characteristics with fragrance notes. This is a very different feeling from “wearing a nice perfume” that lies on top of your skin like a pretty fabric. There is nothing arbitrary about what feels right. Not in life, not in perfumery.

Finding those perfumes that really match is not easy. The market offers an abundance that is over-whelming even to the most passionate and curious perfumista. But it is worth it, and once you learn how to navigate and recognize the patterns in your preferences it is not as complicated as it looks. For myself, I choose to ask for guidance so that I can find perfumes that I have not discovered where notes that I like have been used. I ask for stories about them and I ask for help to discover new brands. I don’t look for someone to help me choose my perfume as I have trained myself now to translate thoughts and aspects of my character to notes and types of perfumes. If you feel unsure about such things, talk to someone who is skilled and really takes the time to help you find a perfume for the creative you or the you that wants something comforting or uplifting or mischievous or escapist. For a true perfume expert these are not strange questions. Choose the right advisor.

I am sure you have been in the situation where you just love a perfume that someone is wearing, you go buy it… and… anticlimax. It doesn’t feel like you thought it would, it is not as amazing on you. You wonder if your mind and memory played tricks on you. This is not unusual. But it is a great reminder of two things – perfume is like a relationship – it is not about you and not about the other – it is about happens in between, in the space that is the together.

Perfume sensations are created in the meeting between a formula and a person’s skin. And every person’s skin is different. There is nothing objective about perfume. The other thing is – do not make hasty decisions. It does not matter how skilled you are, you just do not know what a perfume that is composed with top, heart and base will smell like in an hour of five on you. No one knows. The super-charming person who sells it to you doesn’t know even if she or he is an expert and amazing. Take your time. Get a sample if you can. Get ten samples of ten perfumes with sandalwood if that is what you are looking for. Take your time. Apply the perfume, take a coffee and come back in an hour. And don’t be disappointed if your friend’s magic potion smells boring on you. Or different. Be curious. You’ll find your magic potion, maybe there is just some little detail that needs to be different for you. Try to detect what the difference is – does it smell sweeter in him/her? Does it smell more flowery on you? Try to remember the difference and ask an expert.

Skin, painted by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

I will give you an example. I have been wearing Ambre Narguilé for some years. Or to be honest, I bought it a few years back and wore it a lot during two years with mixed feelings. I adore this perfume. It is a masterpiece to me. But, I found myself often thinking that it was too overwhelming and not appropriate in many situations. And later on I felt that it lacked something for me to feel really comfortable with it, it was too sweet. It lacked integrity or a mature nuance. So in the last two or so years I have not been wearing it at all but I smell the bottle sometimes to use as reference when searching for similar compositions. Among perfumistas this fragrance is well-known. Still I have not met anyone that wears it a lot. Then comes a man. He says he really likes the perfume, I think “Really?” and feel how in my eyes he becomes slightly more like a baklava than Omar Sharif.

He introduces me to Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, and I am amazed because this – is the darker version of Ambre Narguilé that I have been wishing for. In my mind this man is starting to be associated with an olfactory world that I find rather attractive. His voice, his choice of words, his aesthetic preferences, his unbelievably immature sense of humor are joined by his scents. The latter exposing a darker side of him than the blond bangs.

Tillya Kori Madrash, Samarkand

Then he brings out another of his favorites, a completely harmless airy Gatsby cocktail party apple lemonade lunchtime careful kiss on the cheek sorbet and dancing on a meadow in a perfectly cut flowery organza skirt kind of story. Bois 1920, Sushi Imperiale. It feels like someone just gave me my first kiss on a summer day in 1939. And then gave me raspberries on a straw before we go look at the horses and the sunset. Someone wears an immaculate linen vest and smiles like a young Sinatra though. It’s Rat Pack meets Anna Karenina of Green Gables. I fall like a rock sliding down a rainbow of course and get instantly addicted. (To the extent where he has to order me to let go of the bottle because the heat from my palms will ruin the perfume). A couple of weeks later I order it from MiN. It is on its way as we speak. I can’t wait. I will wear it like nothing else matters more than raspberries on a straw and immaculate linen vests and Green Gables are the perfect place to be flown to the moon and then share an apple stolen from the strange neighbour’s tree.


And then he appears again. Wearing the darkest most intriguing strange thing thats smells like a love affair on the way to Samarcand and words that cannot be spoken. “What are you wearing??”, I say. He answers, “you have it, Ambre Narguilé”. It is a mystery to me where the carnal alluring notes disappear when I wear it. Same perfume. Completely different experiences. On me it is Christmas dessert and the Nutcracker, on him a secret night in Venice, a 19th century emerald shining from a décolletage at the opera. Forbidden. “Warn me?

I have more examples, oh so many more. Of perfumes that surprise and confuse and alter as they evolve on one person’s skin or another’s. Of the infinite mysteries that create a love affair between the nose and the mind. This is one of the many reasons why perfumes fascinate me.

Come, let’s dance!

So much has been written about the collaboration between designer Dries van Noten and Frederic Malle (for a moment of aesthetic heaven please look at this story on his home) that it feels a bit superfluous to add one more blog post… But I can’t stay away from mentioning it because any new perfume from Malle is an event of significance.

What Frederic Malle does and his vision is admirable and embodies values that add an absolutely necessary element to today’s perfume market. His ambition when creating the brand and company was to “liberate perfumers from the kinds of restraints often imposed by marketers and focus groups”. Malle functions as an editor, working with the noses that are invited to create scents in the same way that an editor works with writers. Every perfume creator is free to create and explore an idea of his own. The result, of course, is that Malle perfumes are the fragrance explorer’s dream. I love to try a new perfume from this collection, and I love how often it surprises me and makes me redefine my own preferences. One of my true favourites, Anqelique sous la pluie, was a perfume that I just did not notice until I had a conversation with one of Malle’s advisors about my preferences and she showed it to me. I love it. (Not to mention it has probably the most beautiful perfume name in the universe). Nice read: the Q&A on Malle’s web.

There are many parallels to draw between the perfume editor role and that of an editor for writers. It is indeed something of an anthology of scents that Frederic Malle has created. The stringent curiosity of Ellena’s Bigarade to the dark carnal Noir Epices from Roudnitska. The tender teardrops in Anqeliques sous la pluie by Ellena (yes, I know, I mention Ellena a lot). The blushed cheeks of Maurice Roucel’s Dans tes bras. All these stories…

And now this new launch that surprised many since there has been no designer collaboration framed by Malle so far. Turns out though that this is the result of a long friendship and creative bond between the editor and the designer. They have taken their time, I am sure the process has been beautiful and filled with very interesting conversations.

I have been an admirer of Dries van Noten‘s eclectic style for a long time. So interesting, and interested, to me it feels like travellers’ clothes. Like the garments carry journeys from Buenos Aires to Samarcand and back. So I was instantly curious to hear what notes would be chosen to tell an olfactory story of his.   I guessed it would be something oriental, spicy, woody. It’s not too spicy but features sandalwood, guaiac wood, tonka bean, saffron, musk and vanilla. The top note is citron. The sandalwood is particularly interesting as it is the return of Indian sandalwood which has been absent from perfumery for a long time due to sustainability concerns. From what I have heard from friends fortunate to have tried it, it is a very undemanding and wearable perfume. The nose is Bruno Jovanovic, who has also created Notre Dame, Chez Monsieur and Marius et Jeannette for Malle among other perfumes.

This new lovely addition to the perfume world will be available in stores in the next two weeks, exact dates vary slightly from one city to another. I will be sniffing in Stockholm, at COW on February 25.

During the last couple of weeks I have mainly been wearing two solid perfumes from Aftelier, Muse and Parfum Privé. Wearing perfumes by Mandy Aftel is so different from other perfume experience that I tend to wear them in phases, not mixing with anything else for a few days or weeks.

I am not sure exactly what it is that creates the particular feeling, if it is Mandy’s hands or the carefully selected and treated (few) ingredients or like in these two cases – that they are solid. Probably a mix of these aspects. It creates a perfume experience that is just…different. Genuine. It has very little to do with the feeling of applying for example a commercial fashion brand perfume regardless of how nice it would be.

Solids are quite unusual. This is unfortunate, if you ask me, because to me a solid feels more intimate, more integrated with my skin. The application feels sensual and somehow, the word that comes to mind is diachronic. When applying a solid with my fingertips I feel like I am repeating a ritual that has been performed during thousands of years. There is something ceremonial about solid perfume and it evokes that feeling of a bond between scents and health. Like its an ancient ointment that will save and seduce at the same time. Add to this feeling the particular notes in these perfumes: lime, clary sage, labdanum and rosemary absolute in Muse – and bergamot, pink pepper, orange flower, osmanthus, pimento leaf, ambrette and ambergris in Parfum Privé – and you should be able to imagine the combination of sensual base notes and something that feels like it was made to cure practically anything a long time ago.

Could this be made by anyone other than Mandy Aftel? I don’t think so. After having read Mandy’s book and slowly discovered several of her creations I am starting to see what links them. There is just no other perfume like it. There are many amazing perfumes, but something that has been made by someone so dedicated to their craft, with their hands – becomes unique in the best sense of the word and very real. Dynamic. When I have worn these perfumes I always miss them when they start to fade.

And they make me want to listen to Regina Spektor and learn how to dance like Rachel Brice.