Daniel Barros’ Perfumes

Daniel Barros Perfumes
Daniel Barros’ Cuir Mojito, Yuzucello, Sex on the Peach and Gincenso (9ml, 2016) © Victor Wong

After all those years, I can vividly remember two things that happened in my sister’s econo-lite wedding – she served raw cauliflower florets on a platter with some ranch sauce on a buffet table. Who eats cauliflowers in a wedding party? Might as well serve just one head of cauliflower; there might come someone who really wants to eat it and says, “excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, I really like cauliflowers” and takes the whole thing and starts chomping it away in a corner.

The second thing was that my sister asked me to be a bartender at the wedding party. She casually said, “Just mix vodka and orange juice together, I think it’s called a screwdriver.” I was really glad that none of her guests went blind after drinking my concoctions, for I had mixed them big plastic cups full of orange juice with a few drops of vodka, and vodka with a few drops of orange juice as the night started to drag. I really had no clue what I was doing, for I don’t drink beer or any cocktails at all.

So I guess my total ignorance and disinterest in alcohol is useful when I test my friend Daniel Barros’ brand new line of cocktail/drinks inspired perfumes – I don’t have any perceived idea whether the perfume is a successful reinterpretation of the cocktail that it is supposed to represent.

Currently his line consists of 12 scents, and he has sent me four.

After testing them, I have come up with this silly conclusion: his perfumes are like South Park episodes – super outrageous, creative, crazy, but all somehow end with a moral redemption, in a form of traditional, proper perfume dry down, for he knows what he is doing, but somehow the theme of the perfumes that he has chosen confines what the perfume should smell like.

Yuzucello – probably my favourite. The opening is like you have won the Superbowl and your teammates dumps a barrel of Limoncello over your head. Crazy strong lemon candy opening, surprisingly non-sticky, if you let the opening subsides a bit, you are rewarded with a very addictive great sandalwood/tonka/lily of the valley dry down.

Gincenso – A gin fragrance that’s actually more like an incense fragrance but somehow smells like a latex fragrance to me? This incense fragrance is masculine, respectful, and sparsely aromatic. Actually it is not at all a comedy fragrance, it’s a proper and properly made fragrance, but if it is a real drink, it is garnished with one blue plastic flip flop on a toothpick. I have said it many times, a lot of leather perfumes smell like plastic flip flops to me. I remember it was a group favourite.

Cuir Mojito – It’s refreshing like mint but rustic like brown leather hide; it’s clean like lime but damp like oakmoss and vetiver; Cuir Mojito is full of contradictions, the movie Cowboys vs Aliens, despite a bit confusing, it’s entertaining.

Sex on the Peach – there is a salty note in this fragrance that reminds me of the beach, and the peach accord is supposed to represent peach schnapps. So far so good, but I must confess I wish the cumin and black pepper isn’t that strong in this fragrance for it gives me a bit of seasickness.

Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum (1982)

Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum, 1oz (1982) © Victor Wong
Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum, 1oz (1982) © Victor Wong

My interest in Niki de Saint Phalle began to develop when I asked people in a fragrance group why it smelled so bad, specifically of stinky feet. I mean, wouldn’t it be embarrassing to ask a sales rep that you are looking for a perfume with an obscure name, and it smells like your husband’s stinky feet? Well, apparently Niki de Saint Phalle didn’t not smell like that, for people in the group immediately defended the fragrance, questioning the sample that I had got and telling me how it must have gone bad.

To be honest, I rarely encounter a perfume that has gone bad, and I am curious under what circumstances a perfume would turn into smelling like athlete’s foot. Regardless, another unexpected incident happened, a friendly perfume store sales lady decided I was the perfect person to receive a small landfill of samples of Niki de Saint Phalle parfum (yes, parfum, not EDT), and perfectly they all smelled great, proofing that my first sample was bad.

So, Niki de Saint Phalle is an excellent green floral chypre (heavy moss, heavy woody, dark green carnation, rose and ylang) from the 80s and a joy to wear. I like its unusual intensity, but somehow, the scent never blows me away, I guess because it is also a chypre from the 80s that I have smelled a lot before. The experience I get from smelling it is eerily similar to smelling the current wave of oud wood, oud fleur, oud oud, so oud, duh oud perfumes. What get my attention are the crazy fragile entwining snakes on top of the flacon bottle, the marketing of a waning chypre in the 80s, and of course, the artist herself.

With the help of the Internet, I found out that Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002, last name “de Saint Phalle”) was an artist born in France. Her parents moved the whole family to America when she was three, and she grew up pretty and became a model briefly. Later she moved to Spain to start her family and there she got influenced by Gaudi’s amazing architecture artwork (which I had suspected the case when I browsed through thumbnail images of her artwork). She had made some controversial and ugly-ass “shooting paintings” that looked like some wet toilet paper got stuck on a canvas and shot at with a paintball gun. Luckily the Gaudi bug got into her head instead, and she had created some colorful, whimsical abstract artwork and giant sculptures that are quite distinct, and in my opinion, inspired by Gaudi, late Herni Matisse and her contemporary, Fernando Botero.

Ok, why the two snakes on the bottle? Happy-looking toothless snakes are a recurring image of Niki’s work and according to The Guardian, they were borne out of what she called the ‘summer of snakes’ – when she was assaulted by her father. I shouldn’t and couldn’t question her, but I think it’s a recurring image because it’s easy to draw. (Yay, what colours should I pick for the stripes?)

In the fancy box that houses the parfum flacon, there’s a little leaflet – besides this flacon, you could also buy Niki de Saint Phalle EDTs, body cream, body lotion, bath oil, shower gel, perfume soaps, and shimmering perfumed powder! It makes me wonder, how successful was this perfume? (Not many people talk about it anymore.) Who came up with the idea and took the gamble to launch this massive line of products? At this moment, I know that they succeeded in creating a memorable product and I am enjoying just the echo of it.

Aeon’s aeon 001 (2015)

Aeon's aeon 001 (2015) © Victor Wong
Aeon’s aeon 001 (2015) © Victor Wong

The idea of a perfume company launching its debut perfume in small quantity (in this case, 333 bottles) and also as a limited-edition scent is baffling to me. What if it’s a smash hit? Are they going to lose their cool and release another batch due to popular demand? I suppose they have something new up in their sleeve, otherwise, how do they sustain their business? And how do they expand their customer base for there are only so few people who can experience their perfumes?

On top of that, Aeon are also keeping the name of the perfumer anonymous. Frederic Malle goes against the tradition of keeping the perfumers’ name out of the picture and puts the perfumers under the spotlight, but now aeon is upping the ante and does the exact opposite. I am pretty sure they are not doing that just in case the perfumer sucks – they want it to be fun and controversial… as long as the perfumer is not someone who no one knows about.

(Spoiler Alert) So the perfumer of Aeon 001 is Antonio Gardoni, the same guy behind the famous chypre, Maai. At a perfume exhibition, he put the beautiful fused-lab-glass bottle on his booth table and said, “Well, everyone knows it’s mine, anyway.”

If you have smelled both Maai and Aeon 001, you could tell they share the same DNA – a signature heavy, oakmossy, resinous, musky, civet-loving animalic base. (Maybe that’s why a lot of people could guess he’s the perfumer behind it right away.) It’s easy to say Maai is a gigantic floral chypre and aeon 001 is a smoky vetiver-based perfume, but in terms of mood, if you say Maai smells like a perfume taken from the last century, then aeon 001 smells like it is taken from the last geological period.

When I wear Aeon 001, I feel like I am lost in a midnight forest surrounded by tall vegetation and I am holding burning torch, and things around me are smelling toasty. The animalic base makes me feel like there’s some beasts lurking around me behind the tall grasses. It smells raw, raunchy, unsettling, primitive and dangerous. If I may rename it, I would name it Jurassic Park. It simply is entertaining and thrilling. Aeon 001 is one of the most satisfying and “full” vetiver perfumes I have ever owned.

Auphorie’s Miyako (2015)

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Auphorie’s Miyako Extrait © Victor Wong

The first time Luca Turin smelled Miyako, he couldn’t even. There’s nothing he could do except give Miyako a five star glowing review; and if you know what a five star review has done to Andy Tauer, you can imagine what could happen to Auphorie, or any new startup perfume house. On the day the review was released, I checked out their website – Miyako was already sold out.

I had had the greatest pleasure meeting the owners/perfumers/brothers at the AIX Scent Fair 2016 in Los Angeles a month after the review was released. They had a booth there, and on that night they won the 2016 Art and Olfaction award in the Artisan category, and just when the show was over, they were inevitably talking to the people of Luckyscent, the biggest niche perfume online shop in US.

Rewind seven hours back that day, when I first sniffed Miyako with one of the greatest anticipations in my life since my fortieth birthday, my initial reaction was, “What am I smelling? An osmanthus leather? Ok…” I wasn’t let down, nor I needed someone to carry me to the nearest bench to get my ghost back. I bought a bottle, because I needed to, for I knew while Luca Turin sometimes can be a drama queen, he was like the little kid in the movie “Sixth Sense”, instead of seeing dead people, he could see unusual things in a perfume most people couldn’t.

I have been wearing Miyako on and off since then, and slowly I think I’ve got it. It has an accord that I have never smelled before, whether it is beautiful to you or me or not. It’s a scent of musty osmanthus flower and moist leather, and it creates a strange, austere atmosphere – like someone has taken you to an unfamiliar room with Asian decor with not much ventilation. You are told to have a seat, and someone you do not anticipate will greet you soon – except that person never comes. You are sitting in the room dead silent, looking at things, breathing the weird sweet air that the room and objects are emitting, and trying to make yourself at ease. Eventually, the uneasiness subsides, and you wake up naturally, you faintly remember you just have had a dream. Let’s try again.

Xyrena’s Basic Bitch & Cinemanic (2015)

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Xyrena at AIX Scent Fair, Los Angeles, May 7th, 2016 © Victor Wong

You went to your kid’s grade school gymnasium to support their annual science fair, and as expected, everything was glued-together-cardboards and cutout letters sprinkled with glitter dust. Suddenly you saw a table, no, actually a booth with a canopy, decorated with professional presentation graphics and style. The kids were all wearing black polo shirts with their own logo stitched on as a team, cheerfully presenting their topic of study to everyone, and there’s a cameraman that they hired, shooting footage to be uploaded to different social media channels. Now you thought the PowerPoint presentation you made last week with sliding transition effect wasn’t that cool anymore.

That’s the kind of feeling I got when I saw Xyrena’s booth at the AIX Scent Fair in Los Angeles two weeks ago – surprised, in awe, inspired and a little envious. The owner, the perfumer and the staff were in their mid-twenties (young and energetic, anyway), and I was very impressed by their presentation, packaging and concept. They used custom-moulded VHS clam shells to house their perfume bottles, and each scent came with a 80s’ style B-movie poster sleeve insert. With their limited budget (bigger than most startup indie houses, in my opinion), they really took the “go big or go home” route, and no, just affixing a simple label on the bottle wouldn’t cut it. (Ironically, their labels were pretty bad, but they said they would improve it.)

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Xyrena’s Basic Bitch & Cinemaniac © Victor Wong

Their scents all have funny names and smell half joke and half serious. Priced at around $40 to $70, their target audience is not you, who buy Amouage body cream. They are targeting people who buy novelty items, people who love pop culture and don’t care whether if it is politically correct or not. They are selling gags in a perfume format.

On the show floor they had Cinemania, a caramel popcorn scent (my favourite kind of popcorn); Hellanut, a hyper-realistic Nutella hazel-chocolate scent (just smelling it raises insulin level); Dark Ride, the scent of water theme parks featuring chlorine and mouldy smell; Basic Bitch, a pumpkin spice latte, paperback and UGG leather boots scent (subtitled, “This Sunday Funday She Literally Can’t Even!”) is actually very good despite a bit synthetic smelling; and finally, Pool boy, a sun tan lotion/cocktail drink/pool water smell. Quality and composition wise, all these scents are distant relatives of $300 perfumes; with proper polishing, more sophistication and better ingredients, they aren’t that different. (Well, except Dark Ride, you can stay at the park.)

I think you get the point – they are ridiculous. Ridiculously creative and shameless, and they are proud. Their presentation, despite imperfect, blew most standard indie brand away, in my opinion.

Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari’s Cadavre Exquis (2016)

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I am writing this in response to a few people who have asked me if it is worth it to buy a bottle Cadavre Exquis. There are a lot of internal struggle, I know that: It comes in 50ml only and quite pricey, $245 a bottle. They have only made 99 bottles, a very small quantity, but a tricky quantity – if it is absolutely fantastic, only one or two people will post on Facebook telling everyone how good it is, but such annoying voice is going to be small and you will just eventually ignore it. If it is a limited edtion of 1000, hmm, you still have a chance to test it and buy it when your budget is looser and join the choir. Finally, it’s a gourmand scent, a love it or hate it genre, but men, they are designed by two revered indie perfumers, Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari, and you love to tell people you have finished your second bottle of Antonio’s Maai and Bruno’s Au Dela. Decision, decision, decision and time is running out…

Well, the opening smells like some old-style chewy non-fruity semi licorice (it’s actually anise) and caramel chocolate candies covered with some dubious wax to preserve them. It’s strong and rich, and not for kids, like Riesen Chewy Chocolate Caramel (Have you ever seen Riesen’s TV commercial? It’s caramel for grown men!) but more complex probably due to the camphor they have added and the mid-notes that can’t wait to show up. If you spit out licorice candies when you were a kid, but love to eat them now (especially some that also have a chocolate flavor), get Cadavre Exquis.

Since I know both Antonio and Bruno’s work, the opening of Cadavre Exquis, does not smell anything like their works, but because of its richness and matureness, I would say it smells slightly more “Antonio” to me, with a touch of the pop art feeling of Bruno’s work. If you absolutely hate gourmand, Cadavre Exquis has a resolution in the dry down. It continues to smell sweet, but it’s resinous, ambery, a little bit spicy and herbal (rosemary), and this candy has a small surprise for you – just a little civet castoreum poop in the chewy center that makes women scream in joy.

If Martha Stewart says, “Today I am going to fry an egg”, you know it’s going to be over the top, garnished with rainbow. Same as Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari telling you, “We are making a candy gourmand perfume!” Don’t worry, it’s spectacular, and if you really don’t like it, sell it on eBay for $450.

P.S. It is absolutely interesting to see both perfumers next to each other in the 2016 AIX Scent Fair. Bruno is more reserved and quiet, and Antonio is very talkative and has no secrets. Very memorable.

Adidas’ Originals by Jeremy Scott (2015)

Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott © Victor Wong
Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott © Victor Wong

Recently I was reminded by a friend that I liked “weird shit”. We were sniffing new perfumes at a department store and I showed him some of the newer perfumes that I liked, and he didn’t like any of them. “Nah, this smelled like an old man”, he said. His girlfriend said, “I bet there’s Indian oil in this perfume. Go check out Fragrantica.” I didn’t, because I was sure that no company would ever put “Indian oil” in their notes breakdown. Frankly, all I had shown them was a chypre perfume.

Actually that made me think… Do I prefer “weird shit” to “good stuff”? I only know the type of perfumes that my friend likes are designer and mainstream niche, and in my opinion, his “fragrance palate” is not very broad. (Hmm… Did I sound like a pompous asshole? In retrospect, my palate wasn’t very broad either, but I didn’t brush off challenging scents too easily.) I told him I liked “weird shit” last time we met because I was a bit tired and didn’t want to elaborate. (This also reminded me of my other friend Fifty-Fifty who absolutely hates Mac computers, and when he asked me why I loved Mac, I just told him it’s a “fashion statement”. He nodded his head in glee while spending a full day cursing and removing Windows Vista.)

In fact, the real reason why we met at the department store was that he wanted to sell me his “Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott” perfume. He bought it on an impulse, and he regretted it. I had never smelled it before we met, and really, no one needed to because, come on, look at that bottle – it’s a collector’s item, the perfume is just icing in the shoe.

He told me that he didn’t like the smell, which was expected, not because he liked only a small subset of “normal” masculine perfumes, but I expected it to smell subpar. But to my surprise, it smelled good – pepper, rose and incense, something you don’t find in a regular pair of sneakers or any regular $15 Adidas sports scents. While It doesn’t smell rich, resinous or oudy, it smells modern, sweet and fresh, and definitely “niche”. (It reminds me of Le Labo Baie Rose 26, too.) However, I can see soccer jocks finding this perfume too strange to match their masculine persona and their armpits not accepting a rose scented perfume.

While we were strolling through the department store, he mentioned that he liked Maurice Roucel’s work. Later I found out that Adidas perfume was co-designed by Maurice Roucel. Oh, the irony.