Guerlain’s Nahema (1979)

Guerlain Nahema Extrait (30ml)
Guerlain Nahema Extrait (30ml)

If you have watched enough TV commercials, you probably remember Disney telling everyone that their classic animation on DVDs like Dumbo or Bambi are going to the “vault” and you will never be able to buy them again…until the Blu-ray versions come out. I think Guerlain employs a similar tactic for their less popular perfumes – they discontinue them, but a decade later they re-release them with some fancier packaging. Of course the problem is, can you wait a decade?

Recently they rang the alarm bell again and the newest victim is Nahema extrait. I never imagined they would do such thing, for I see Nahema one of the last remaining pillars of their great classics (Mitsouko, Shalimar, Jicky, L’Huere Bleue, Chamade, Vol de Nuit & Nahema)I am not a huge fan of modern Guerlain, to be honest, but I plan to collect their classic extraits, for their bottles are beautiful and Luca Turin praised them like they are the epitome of classic French perfumes.

I had already acquired a bottle of Vol de Nuit extrait, and I planned to get Chamade next, but the news destroyed my plan. Guerlain’s extraits have always been so damn expensive, when I paid for my bottle of Nahema extrait at the Guerlain boutique, I absurdly requested a big sample of Nahema extrait because I didn’t want to open mine (completely nuts and illogical, I know). And The salesperson actually found that very understandable, and she prepared a 5ml decant for me.

I love Nahema. It’s an uncontaminated jammy rose perfume made in the 80s before the oud pigeons immigrated from the Middle East and started pooping oud droppings in every rose-based perfumes. (You realize I recently said I loved Ex Idolo’s 33, a rose/oud perfume right? I am just being an ass here.) What’s so strange about Nahema is that it also smells strangely synthetic to me, but in a good way, like blue colour slushies and grape sodas. The opening is fresh, green and peachy, and shortly after you see a forklift without a hand brake crashing towards you like in the movie The Omen, and it hits the rose jam shelving units behind you and you are covered with rose and passion fruit jams like Winnie the Pooh. Nahema has some massive and ambiguous florals, almost nose-shriveling sweetness, and an unforgivingly heavy-handed rich base with vetiver and resinous and vanillary peru balsam. You can either smile or take a shower, but not both at the same time.

Ironically, Guerlain discontinues Nahema extrait because it has too much real rose and that makes it non-IFRA compliant. I’ve always thought that the rose in Nahema is synthetic, but oh well, good to know.

Van Cleef & Arpels’ First (1976)

 Van Cleef & Arpels' First (1976) EDT, 250ml © Victor Wong
Van Cleef & Arpels’ First (1976) EDT, 250ml © Victor Wong

In a hospital ward, a bunch of sick kids are lying in bed. The days are long and boring, and the pain and moaning are real. The sun is shining bright and cheery everywhere but the hospital rooms, and the hateful fluorescent lights on the ceiling are always on.

Seemingly out of nowhere and for no reason, a notable and elegant woman, dressed in white, not known to the kids, walks into their room. She has moist, gentle eyes and a kind, discreet smile. She says a bunch of encouraging words to each kid and leaves. Perhaps the most memorable thing about that woman is the scent that she wears and how it follows her around. It’s comforting, powdery, beautiful, floral, and tender, just like her. She is wearing Van Cleef & Arpels’ First (1976).

That’s my impression of First and my vision of who would wear it very well. It’s so beautiful and approachable, yet so elegantly distant. Fruits, flowers, ambers, aldehydes and musks all converge into a prism and exits as a glowing white aura. Who would wear it nicely? The cute Starbucks barista who serves you coffee? Not too sure. The female coworker who is beautiful and plays hard-to-get and toys with people’s hearts? No. Maybe Princess Diana? Just a thought.

I also find the title of the perfume interesting. What does it really mean? Yes, it’s Van Cleef’s first perfume for women, but does it imply there will be many more to come? Or that it should be your first perfume? Or first in class? The name also reminds me of the video game “Final Fantasy” from 1987. The Japanese videogame maker had used up all their capital and thought that the game they had just finished would be their last video game, so they sarcastically named it Final Fantasy. It turned out to be a mega-hit and many sequels followed.

Lanvin’s Famous Perfumes from the 20th Century, Part 4 – Rumeur

Lanvin Rumeur, Parfum, 20ml © Victor Wong
Lanvin Rumeur, Parfum, 20ml © Victor Wong

Lanvin’s little Rumeur had a rocky life. Created by André Fraysse and intended primarily for furs, Lanvin launched Rumeur in 1934, let it run and make money for them for 37 years, and “killed” it in 1971 after a short boardroom meeting. Eight years later, in 1979, news broke out that Rumeur lives and has escaped from a locked basement and started a new life with long lost friends Arpège and My Sin. Together they faced the world that was about to turn “80s” with a new and modest, sleek, glossy black packaging. However, Rumeur didn’t perform as well as Lanvin thought it would, and in 1982, merely three years since its relaunch, the executives of Lanvin took Rumeur to the foggy Woods of Abandonment for a short walk and it was never found again.

(The above drama was imagined by me after reading a few Edward Gorey books.)

The true spirit of Rumeur did not live on, but its name did – in 2006, Lanvin launched a completely new perfume and named it Rumeur again. It sold well and Rumeur 2 Rose was launched in 2007.

I have two versions of vintage Rumeur. The first version is part of a coffret set (1940s), but most of it has evaporated away, and it smelled horribly incomplete. The second version is the one that I think is quite rare, a brand new bottle from the early 1980s.

The opening of Rumeur doesn’t smell very complicated to me – fresh and fruity because of the aldehydes, light bergamot and creamy peach and jasmine. But the Spice Girls, no, Spice Grandmas trio never let the scent go too far and light-headed without them – nutmeg, cardamom and cloves bully the top notes and beat them to submissive and take the front seats. Because of that, the whole composition smells mildly metallic throughout the scent development. At this point, it reminds me of oriental perfumes such as Fendi Asja, YSL Opium and even little bit of Rochas Femme. Finely blended civet/leather/oakmoss/sandalwood is there since the beginning, but it is more noticeable after scent calms down. All in all, Rumeur is a beautiful scent, but not distinct enough to stand out to survive into the 21st century.

Diptyque’s L’Autre (1973)

Diptyque L'Autre © Victor Wong
Diptyque L’Autre © Victor Wong

The opening of Diptyque’s L’Autre (1973) is so absurd that it makes me laugh. Almost like watching a hippie missing a front tooth in a tie-dye shirt walk onto the stage on a talent show, it’s quite hilarious – the mean judge immediately frowns and shakes his head, the teenage girls in the audience make an “eww” and the women start whispering to their girl friends’ ears. To me, the opening is so un-perfume like it smells of muscle ache rubbing cream, or may be Tiger Balm (my mom used it many years ago and I vaguely what it smells like.) Some people say it smells like armpit, or a hairy man after a round of boxing, but all I smell is the combination of spices (cardamon, nutmeg, pepper, and caraway seeds) and fresh coriander. It doesn’t smell B.O. to me at all (contrary to Serge Lutens’ Arabie).

The audience calms down and Mr. L’Auture starts singing the Song of Dry Down. The voice is sweet, exotic, a bit mellow, a bit fresh and carries a Thai accent (coriander). It’s quite beautiful but half of the judge panel decides to push the “Not For Me” button. I keep on listening. Suddenly a revelation comes… it resembles a Serge Lutens perfume, only that L’Autre was released much earlier than any SLs. The sweetness of L’Autre reminds me of Fille en Aiguilles (dried fruits/spice/vetiver/pine) except it is not as sweet, and of course, without the pine. I can’t say I love L’Autre 100%, but this is definitely a bottle to keep for show and tell.

Finding an occasion to wear this perfume is tricky; oh I know, I should take a hike.

Penhaligon’s Violetta (1976)

Penhaligon's Violetta © Victor Wong
Penhaligon’s Violetta © Victor Wong

A Facebook group member mentioned today is World Poetry Day! So here’s my first poem, also a “review” for Penhaligon’s Violetta:

Violets are purple but the perfume is blue
Can I trust you with this juice?

Bloom once a year and smell so dear
Captured in a bottle please keep it near

Mingling with the flamboyant is often tiring
Swinging with just you it’s oh so surprising

Is this your true self? Why so humble?
You are pretty especially those little dimples.

Diptyque’s L’Eau Trois (1975)

Diptyque L'Eau Trois © Victor Wong
Diptyque L’Eau Trois © Victor Wong

I’ve observed that there are many kinds of perfume enthusiasts – some focus on new niche releases only, some like to collect vintage perfumes, and some are loyal to only one brand, and of course, those busy hummingbirds that need to sample every flower in the garden or they will die of boredom.

At one point I had focused only on niche perfumes; then I became interested in well-known perfume houses with a prestigous history in perfume making. Take Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar for example, they were created in 1920s. It’s cool and important to know what famous perfumes of the early 20th century smell like, but currently my interest in them is only skin deep.

As I smell more and more perfumes, I have developed some sensibility to tell approximately what decade a particular perfume is from. (Hmm, I should back track… may be not, but most likely I can tell if it is vintage, from the 80s or contemporary. I guess most people can do that too. Waahh wahh.)

Now what’s holding in my hand is a bottle of L’Eau Trois by Diptyque. It was first released in France in 1975. I was a toddler in Hong Kong back then. 1975 is really not that long ago, but I have very little memory of what things were like during the first 10 years of my childhood. Is L’Eau Trois an indicative perfume of the 70s? It makes me think… Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage was released in 1966. Ralph Polo was released in 1978. In between we have L’Eau Trois, a frankincense perfume that smells like an Orthodox church? If I show you this scent and ask you what decade it’s from, can you guess it correctly? I myself can’t. So here’s my theory…L’Eau Trois is actually a timeless niche perfume from the 70s! (Dramatic lightning.)

L’Eau Trois smells particularly interesting to me because it’s all about frankincense and myrrh. I’ve played with frankincense and myrrh essential oil for aromatherapy, burnt frankincense and myrrh resins on a piece of hot coal – slightly different flavor, I’d compare it to poaching something vs roasting. But wearing a perfume that’s all about these two famous resins is another experience; it makes me feel like I am a hippie or someone very spritual who sells snake oil. (It also has rosemary and spices in it, but that seems almost irrelevant.) A must try, in my opinion.

Penhaligon’s Night Scented Stock (1976, reformulated 2009)

Penhaligon's Night Scented Stock © Victor Wong
Penhaligon’s Night Scented Stock © Victor Wong

I know to make chicken stock, you need onions, celery stalks, carrots and herbs, but I wonder what’s in Penhaligon’s “Night Scented Stock” (1976)? Maybe vanilla, incense, jasmine, gardenia, amber, tonka bean and some spice? What a wonderful thing to daydream about at work. I went to Fragrantica to find out what’s in it the formula and I wasn’t too far off! But there’s one little thing that bugged me…why did the bottle label show only one stalk of flowers when there were so many ingredients in the perfume? Only later I realized that the name of that flower on the label was actually called night-scented stock.

According to Penhaligon’s, Night Scented Stock is a “soliflore”, a floral composition designed to highlight the beauty of a single floral essence. (Originally I thought it meant designed to mimic the scent of a flower that cannot be extracted.) I have never smelled a night scented stock flower, but I highly doubt that the perfume is going to let me experience the beauty of it when you have cinnamon and cloves in the formula.

I blind bought Night Scented Stock partly because it was on sale at Penhaligon’s website, but the bigger reason was that, for what I’d read, it’s super powdery. Not just powdery, but heavy spicy-floral-powdery, which means Grandma Time™ ! I dearly love this 1/4 Opium + 1/4 flower bouquet + 2/4 Johnsons’ and Johnsons’ Baby Powder perfume. For a good night sleep, a few sprays and the moon descends, the cat walks on the fence and I go zzz.

Rochas’ Mystere (1978)

Rochas Mystere © Victor Wong
Rochas Mystere © Victor Wong

I don’t think there is a single shop in Toronto that carries the long discontinued and highly sought after perfume, Mystere (1978). Actually, there is one, but they are not selling: they have a 100ml tester bottle that’s half-used. The shop owner has a policy that they never sell any testers unless all the current stock of that perfume is sold. In this case, they still have some mini 5ml Mystere Parfums up for sale, but they are very expensive for their size. They want me to buy all of them in order to let me buy that tester bottle! I didn’t oblige, but I was curious enough to ask why they had that policy.

The salesperson told me that some years ago a man begged the owner to sell him a tester bottle because (drama alert) it was his dying wife’s wish to smell her favourite but discontinued perfume. The owner was very moved and sold it to him, but he didn’t want to open a new box to use it as a tester. As a result, people couldn’t test it, and they ain’t gonna buy them. He got frustrated and came up with the policy that no tester is to be sold.

(I was initially very moved by the story, but I wondered why didn’t that guy buy a brand new bottle? The only possible answer is that that tester bottle was vintage, but new ones behind it was reformulated/redesigned.)

The original Mystere bottle looks very confusing and strange to me at first – a parallelogram bottle with a giant black oval cap, unexpectedly weird for its time or even now. The one I own is just a generic round Rochas bottle, but that doesn’t deter me from appreciating the scent – it’s one of those scents that I’ll occasionally take the cap off to sniff, put the cap back on, and immediately take it off and smell again.

Leather is not listed in the formula, but Mystere smells like supple moist leather that gives off the most addictive herbal and animalistic scents, the kind that you’d like to feel in your hands, but wonder what is it used for because it’s so soft; it has tons of floral in it, but all the heavy-scented ingredients such as rosemary, carnation, trees, spices, oak moss, patchoulis, civet butts suppress it to almost a semi-masculine scent. It smells vintage now, but you cannot go wrong wearing it!

Givenchy’s Gentleman (1974)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

My working hours are 8 to 4, but almost all my coworkers’ are 9-5. My project manager, whose hours are 9-5, comes to work at 8:30 after dropping off his wife to work. He sees me in the office the earliest, and he gets the “best of me” – I mean, he certainly can smell me. Others who come to work late might not be so lucky if I am wearing a perfume that has poor longevity. (Laugh.)

Today I wore Givenchy Gentleman (1974), a perfume with a potent oakmoss base. My project manager walked by my cubicle and asked, “Is it you or the mouldy office?” Well, I work in a converted warehouse office with no windows. The roof leaks when there is a storm, but it’s ok, the rainwater will be all absorbed by the thousand-year-old carpet. This morning was rainy and humid, and the office smelled horrible. So it’s totally understandable when he asked if was me or the office. He walked closer and sniffed, “what you are wearing definitely smells better than the office.”

I got interested in Givenchy Gentleman when I read about Luca’s review of Gentlemen Only. (He didn’t review Gentleman because it’s long discontinued.) He basically hated Gentlemen Only and thought it’s incomparable to its predecessor. Gentleman smells good, but it’s old-school. I can imagine a British school principal in grey flannel wearing it. A saleswoman in her thirties, proud to have stocked a good number of Gentleman for her shop told me that it smelled like dirt. (She said it with a smile and slightly shook her bosoms in a cute way.) Now I know I shouldn’t wear it when it’s a rainy day. (You could argue it smells particularly romantic when it’s raining or foggy.) May be the perfumer got his inspiration from the old days when a man would take off his jacket and put it on top of a puddle for a lady to walk across.

Estee Lauder’s Private Collection (1973)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

It is my goal to smell all the 5-star perfumes reviewed by Luca Turin. I don’t worship him, but there are so many perfumes out there and compared to the small number of 5-star perfumes reviewed by him, I believe the goal is totally attainable and fun.

One of the 5-star perfumes that I least paid attention to was Estee Lauder’s “Private Collection”. I didn’t know why, I just never felt like I had to smell it ASAP like Fracas or Mitsouko. May be the review was short and unexciting to read (actually reviewed by his wife Tania Sanchez).

Over the year I had casually walked by a few Estee Lauder counters in various department stores, and never saw a bottle of “Private Collection”. I saw, however, some of its flankers like “Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia”.

Then one weekday after work, I walked into an almost empty department store where all the sales person were standing still like wax statues but with eyes following you as you passed by them, I suddenly turned around and asked a sales lady, “Do you have Estee Lauder’s Private Collection?” She came alive and said, “Oh yes!!! You are the one who bought a bottle of Youth Dew from me (three months ago)? I remember you!!” Then she bent down and dug through the bottom-most drawer behind the counter and showed me a fossilized box. “I don’t have a sample bottle on the counter because no one buys it and everyone steals it.”

I bought it without really smelling it because she was so kind and nice (and didn’t let me test-spray it). Anyway, I sprayed a few times on my skin when I reached home… it’s Genie Grandma again! She spun around the room a few times and said, “I have been imprisoned in this bottle for 40 years, and whoever released me I shall gift her notes of oak moss, cedar, patchouli, coriander, all the nice scents a modern woman will ever need! Wait, what are you?” I immediately closed the bottle cap. It’s a dangerous perfume.