Patchouli-themed Perfumes (Part 2)

Personally I prefer wearing mixed-media perfumes (synthetic ingredients mixed with natural ingredients) to all-natural perfumes because they are much more interesting and exciting to me. (Aldehydes, metallic notes, fantasy notes, etc.) Some time ago I have heard a perfumer say that a lot of natural ingredients are mini-perfumes themselves and not easy to finesse; and all-natural perfumes if not well-designed often smell “muddy” or “brown”.

Maybe patchouli essential oil is one good example – to me it is a mini fragrance. It is strong, full of character, herbalness, earthiness, and nuisances, but It also gives me uneasiness for I find them smelling “too close to nature” – too earthy, deep and aromatic, almost the exact opposite of smelling a synthetic white musk detergent. I can imagine a perfumer either using just a little of it in a perfume to add some character or “darkness”, or “go big or go home”, using a lot to make a patchouli-themed perfume with some complementary notes.

There is a patchouli-theme fragrance that I have recently discovered that makes me feel that the perfumer has tamed patchouli and turned this hobo into a fine gentleman – Dior’s Patchouli Imperial. The opening is smooth, ambery, sophisticated, mildly spicy, but undoubtedly patchouli, yet constrained. It is so impressive that I feel like I want to stay close and talk to him for hours, as if he has seen the world and now he is back to tell stories in tuxedo and sandals, but really, I should leave this handsome hobo alone after taking a selfie with him. As the perfume reaches dry down, there is something in it that’s really synthetic and borderline nauseating. (Synthetic vetiver, maybe?) But crazy enough, the opening is worthy of my purchase of a full bottle.

Then I rediscovered Chanel’s Coromandel (“Asian lacquered partition screen”). You didn’t know how much I disliked this perfume when I first discovered Chanel’s exclusive line of perfumes. It smells like… you are trapped in a wet, wood cabinet and forced to eat white chocolate flavored TUMS to survive. I threw the sample across the field like a quarterback superstar and hoped not to see it again. One day, while reorganizing my sample drawers here it was again, I sprayed some on the back of hand. The epiphany arrived – it’s a powdery patchouli scent. It’s as weird as avocado milkshake in a Vietnamese restaurant, but now I have seen through the unusualness and found it amazing. Hurrah for white-chocolate and patchouli flavored TUMS! (Amazing yuck.)

Christian Dior’s Eau Noire (2004)

Ch
Christian Dior’s Eau Noire (2004) 250ml

Once upon a time there was a fragrance collector named Veektor. His collection had become so big that there is not enough dust to cover every single bottle. He decided to slow down collecting and be more selective. But the world is full of temptations, particularly if you live in the global village called Facebook. One day, his friend Fragrance Care Bear posted his latest acquisition called Dior’s Eau Noire in a fragrance group. It’s freaking amazing, according to Care Bear. Veektor was aware of that perfume – it’s been discontinued, and the perfume color is of emerald green, like the stillness of the lake in an enchanted dark forest. He had never smelled Eau Noire before, but according to the fine people of the Internet, Eau Noire is like true love, those who have never experienced it will think it’s overrated, but those who have tried Eau Noire, oh my, it’s heaven with free maple syrup pancakes.

Fragrance Care Bear offered his caring paws, and showed Veektor how to acquire it. “Do not tell anyone about this. There’s a special fairy who aims to stop the world’s suffering – she helps others shop for a living. Contact her, and she will show you the way.” Veektor found the fairy as directed, and was shown the way through her friend, Mr. PayPal. Through more magic, the bottle of Eau Dior arrived at Veektor’s front door in two weeks.

Veektor sprayed some Eau Noire on, expecting magic to shower upon thee, and to his surprise and dismay, “Damn, it’s just a lavender scented perfume. Eau Noire, Oh No!” Veektor shook the bottle violently.

“My mom told me I am good, but not special, and I don’t need to go to the the special school in Paris,” says Eau Noire.

“That also explains why you are discontinued to give way for other Dior new releases.”

“But a lot of people on the Internet told me I am soooo good!”

Veektor is now stuck with a huge 250ml of Oh No. Because he has so much, he has decided to spray some every night before he goes to bed.

Then one night, something magical happened…

Veektor fell asleep really fast.

That’s because lavender helps people fall asleep more easily. Eau Noire smells very invigorating at first (lavender and licorice), then slowly settles into something very smooth and pleasant, mildly sweet, aromatic and herbal (thyme, vanilla, cedar, violet). In fact, when people say it smells like herbal syrup on pancakes they are not wrong at all, but just a bit exaggerated.

While there’s nothing wrong to feature lavender as the star of the perfume, my subconscious tells me such perfume should not be too over-priced, for lavender to me is an utilitarian scent.

Now my bottle of Eau Noire sits on my bedside table, whenever I feel I need to destress, I put some on.

Christian Dior’s Ambre Nuit (2009)

Christian Dior Ambre Nuit © Victor Wong
Christian Dior Ambre Nuit © Victor Wong

In 2014 I was in Hong Kong briefly for two weeks and finally had a chance to smell the Christian Dior’s exclusive line. (Toronto, where I live, still doesn’t have a flagship store as of 2015.) I knew I would bring home a bottle, but it was hard – they had about 15 bottles available and I did not know which one to get. (And in Hong Kong, sales people usually don’t give out samples casually unless you are John Woo walking into the stores in slow-mo with pigeons flying behind you.) I smelled each fragrance for a few seconds, and had decided to get the one that smelled most attractive and unique to me (basically I was choosing attractive top notes), and I picked Grand Bal, a jasmine fragrance. The sales also gave me a few samples, because I had bought something, and when I tested them back home I knew I had made a wrong decision. I should have gotten Ambre Nuit, because while its top notes were not unique, overall the perfume was great.

In fact, carpet-riding awesome. It’s rich, sensual, sweet, but not too sweet, smells a bit roasted, but not smokey, dark… essentially intoxicating. If you look dashing already (that’s very important), and are wearing Ambre Nuit while standing by the railing of the pier as the sun sets, really, everyone wants a piece of you – the joggers, the mosquitoes, the sea gulls and the whale. However…

However, one day Ambre Nuit reminded of a perfume that I already have in my collection. A lot of people hate it, and that’s Dior Homme Parfum. I literally laughed out loud when I had made that connection. Of course, they don’t smell the same, but if you have both perfumes, spray some on each hand and compare. I think they have the same mood, or “perfume colours” (I am not talking about the colour of the juice,) and even similar base notes. To me, Dior Homme Parfum is actually more sophisticated than Ambre Nuit because of the iris and leather. Ambre Nuit is perhaps “cleaner”, less floral and heavy, or younger, that’s why it’s so loved. Now all of a sudden the magic carpet no longer flies.

Christian Dior’s Fahrenheit Parfum (2014)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I have eight siblings and I am the youngest in the family, and you might think that there’s a lot of gift-giving when it comes to birthdays and special celebrations; but in reality, no one remembers anyone’s birthday. The last time I received a birthday gift from someone in the family was about 15 years ago; my sister gave me a Dior Fahrenheit (1988) gift set that included a EDP and a bar soap. My memory was very vivid, because I hadn’t received a birthday gift for a long long time, and also it’s the first time I’d received a perfume for a birthday gift. 

I wasn’t interested in perfumes back then, and I thought Fahrenheit was over the top manly for me. I rarely used it, and when I put some on and looked at the mirror, I thought I was James Bond, except that this James Bond had a 42 inch waistline. The famous gasoline top note that never goes away makes think that I am constantly fighting a villain near a giant airplane propeller or some heavy machinery. It smells dangerous, relentless, mature, dapper, athletic, everything at the same time, and that definitely doesn’t represent me, because I like cats, give up on things quite easily, care little about fashion, and can’t climb down a ladder.

I have read a lot of reviews and forum posts written by different James Bonds on how each Fahrenheit reformulation is worse than the previous one, but since I am not James Bond, I never felt I needed to hunt for a vintage bottle, well, until I read about how the new Parfum version smelled very close to the first EDP release. That caught my attention. Cool, I don’t have to pay an inflated price to own the first release! I finally got a bottle, sprayed some on, and it smelled… the same.

Well, almost, it’s sweeter, mellower, and less synthetic. That’s all. Still 42 inch waistline.

Christian Dior’s Mitzah (2010)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

What’s the most probable reason why a perfume house discontinues a perfume?

  1. Certain ingredient(s) is no longer available
  2. It is no longer profitable to make such perfume
  3. Their line up is too big and they want to prune the ones that don’t sell
  4. It smells so out-of-this-world that you constantly see people telling you so on the Internet, and the perfume house wants to disappoint all the fragrance lovers who have not bought it yet by yanking it from the market maliciously so that everyone loses

I was looking at a bottle of Mitzah at a Dior store in Hong Kong, dumbfounded. Why was it still available? Wasn’t it discontinued and people who had a bottle constantly bragged about it? What’s going on? It had to be a trap. In fact, the reason why I was in that shop was to get a bottle of Amber Nuit. A scent that I thought was ok when I first sniffed it, but turned out to be a carpet-riding awesome scent after I took a sample home and got the time to evaluate it properly. But I only had the budget to get one bottle and I would be flying home soon. I picked up the bottle of Mitzah, took a sniff, and thought, it’s ok. A honey-based oriental spicy perfume. It’s not unique, it even smelled a bit sour, but it’s smooth. Actually it reminded me of Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan. In fact, a weaker version of Ambre Sultan. If I wore it to work, people in the office probably would tell me that I smell like an old man and get back to work watching Youtube. Did I really want it? I could sense a sales person walking slowly towards me and ready to offer his generous help. His blurred out silhouette was slowly getting focused. This was my last chance – would I be selling my first-born son to win a bottle of Mitzah on eBay later if I don’t get it today? Reason #4 was the only logical answer and I shouldn’t let it happen. The sales person said, “Good choice, we don’t have many bottles left because it’s our bestseller.” Liar.

Christian Dior’s Dior Homme Parfum (2014)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Dior Homme is probably one of the most reviewed male fragrances on Youtube for many good reasons. It’s a widely available scent; if you blindfold yourself and walk into a department store and reach for a heavy sharp rectangular bottle, it’s likely to be Dior Homme. It’s affordable to the working class, probably to some students; you will not get dirty looks recommending it to anyone who wants to upgrade from Axe or Adidas. And damn it, Dior Homme does smell wonderful and sophisticated for which you can say “it’s the best perfume ever” with amateur uncertainty or connoisseur certainty and you will still get acknowledgement and likes regardless. (Luca Turin gave it a 5 star too.) Both men and women love it because everything is in harmony and inoffensive – floral from iris, yumminess from cacao, manliness from leather, warmth and spiciness from amber and cardamom, and richness and strength from lavender and million other things.

To me, Dior Homme smells rich, romantic and full of confidence, but sometimes too calculatedly charming. (I just saw some middle fingers from the bros on the net telling me no one gives a damn what I think.) But, of course, the most interesting thing about Dior Homme is the iconic stem inside the bottle. In the first release, the stem is a silver tube. Later, Dior changed it to black plastic. People associate the black plastic stem to reformulation and they all want to get the silver stem version. At one point I also joined the craze looking for a bottle with the silver stem, but gave up after trying a few shops. Honestly, I suspect the difference is insignificant. (It’s not like a perfume that was released 50 years ago and got reformulated.) I’ve once talked to a woman who told me that her ex-boyfriend was very fussy and insisted on finding the silver stem, and it didn’t sound like a compliment to me.

Now that Dior has recently released the parfum version, I think, perfect, you guys can go search for the silver stem to visit the Willy Wonka factory while I enjoy the more intense version with a smaller distribution channel. (I bought mine at the airport duty-free shop and so far that’s the only place I’d seen one in Toronto.)

Postscript: According to the Internet, the parfum version is “very different” from the regular EDT version and a lot of people hate it. I have never owned the EDT except taken a few sniff of it at a department store, but I very much so prefer the parfum version – heavy, concentrated, slowly diffusive and masculine. It’s better suited for guys who wear suit and tie and a cashmere scarf, whom you will unlikely get greeting hugs from.

Christian Dior’s Grand Bal (2012)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

To be honest, I am actually happy that Dior has not set up any boutiques in Toronto yet – I really don’t want to learn about their privée collection for I have enough temptation, thank you. My recent trip to Hong Kong to visit my family reassured me that my born city really has everything except democracy. There are as many designer shops as fast food restaurants in any mall, and of course, Dior boutiques are no exception.

It was quite early in the morning when I walked in an empty Dior store, so no one was in the shop to notice me “inappropriately dressed” in jeans and untucked shirt except the perfectly dressed sales. It was also a very hot day and I was drenched in sweat, looking like a half-melted cream popsicle still wrapped in its paper bag and the sales wasn’t very enthusiastic to serve to me. I haphazardly smelled all the perfumes from the privée collection for both the sales and I didn’t want to me linger in the shop for long, and to be honest, none really stood out except one – Grand Bal. In retrospect, it stood out because I liked jasmine and Grand Bal is a big jasmine perfume, and also the temperature that day was really high to like any of the heavier perfumes in the line such as Oud Ispahan and Cuir Cannage.

One thing I really like about Grand Bal is that it is not a heavy-handed jasmine/ylang/orange blossom perfume, despite it’s quite linear. It doesn’t get any award for creativity, but it’s very well blended and the ingredients smell very genuine. To me, the opening has a sparkling wine effect – bright and cheery, and when the bubbles seem gone, it has a tea effect – woody, stable and calm. A perfect summer perfume, may be really suitable for a grand ball, but now I am back in Canada in November and the weather is already freezing cold.