Lolita Lempicka’s Lolita Lempicka (1997)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Eve of Eden had eaten it before and so did Snow White. Now it’s your turn to eat the “apple”, the life-changing symbol of temptation, but just like e-cigarettes, it only looks like the real thing and you shouldn’t feel too ashamed taking a bite of it; it’s supposed to be fun and “harmless”. Lolita Lempicka’s debut fragrance (1997) is a fantasy created and marketed perfectly, from the scent to the look of the bottle to the lush marketing imageries; no wonder it is still a best-seller for over 20 years.

The marketing didn’t do magic for me, but it surely had grabbed my attention every time I walked by some perfume counters. It’s everywhere, so I had no urgency to smell it, until, of course, I read Tania Sanchez’s 5-star review. It’s not easy to immediately tell if it’s a great scent (or not), but I know if a designer scent sucks, typically it can’t last more than 5 years on the market. It took me several wearing to understand what’s going on, for the opening is quite complex:  essentially it’s a down-to-earth, quieter Angel, a gourmand perfume that features star anise. But the supposedly pungent liquorice note here is like a peanut M&M’s, covered up by all kinds of yumminess, when you eat it, you are not eating a peanut, you are eating a chocolate candy with personality.

The best part of Lolita Lempicka is actually the dreamy powdery dry down. (I love my powder!) If you think Angel is too much and you don’t mind a little bit of liquorice, Lolita Lempicka is pretty neat.

Amouage’s Gold for Men (1998)

© Victor wong
© Victor Wong

I am no expert on Amouage perfumes, but I am almost certain that if Amouage were a country and needs to recruit an army, all they need to do is say “please”. And it will be the best smelling army in the world for sure.

When I first started exploring their line, I tested the little samples I ordered from Lucky Scents. My expectation was so high, I was prepared to have my socks knocked off. But one after another, I felt so puzzled because there wasn’t one that I felt very drawn to, until I smelled Gold for Men (1998). My reaction was almost like those women in a chocolate TV commercial, in which she puts a piece of rich and creamy chocolate in her mouth, closes her eyes, tilts her head up, her face exuding an orgasmic pleasure.

I will cut to the chase – if I get married, or I am lying in an open casket, I will be wearing Gold for Men. Because it smells so expensive, formal, powdery, floral, romantic, musky, classy and classic, when I am wearing it, I feel like I am a 6 foot 5 czar wearing a vintage mink coat and pair of sunglasses spreading caviar on a cracker. However, under normal circumstances, wearing it is almost overkill, particularly in summer.

Guy Robert, the nose behind this masterpiece, considered ‘Amouage Gold’ a symphony and the crowning glory of his career. (He did both Gold for Women and Men.) I agree. (source: Perfume Shrine)

Fendi’s Asja (1992)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

“Ha ha, Fendi misspelled Asia with Asja”, I raughed. But did they? I used Google to translate Asia to French and Italian but Asja didn’t come up. Fendi probably invented this word for the title of their oriental perfume so that it sounded even more exotic.

The packaging of Asja (1992) is fun and beautiful and not necessarily cliche. It is a mishmash of various Asian traditional iconic designs – Chinese red lanterns, Japanese lacquered wood bowls, radiating stripes that resemble sun rays in the old Japanese flag and paintings, and the use of gold colour that turns every Chinese on.

I haven’t noticed any new Asian inspired packaging for perfumes for years. I guess Asia is no longer exotic to westerners anymore – they are now everywhere in the world. I live in Toronto, and walking down the street in my neighbourhood, all I see are Chinese bubble tea shops, Korean convenience shops and Halaj restaurants. I bet nowadays white folks in Toronto would find a bottle maple syrup more exotic than before.

Asja is actually a proper title for the perfume. It’s oriental to the max, and I like it better than YSL’s classic Opium. Opium debut in 1977, although it’s a smash success, it smells unfriendly to me. It lacks a certain warmth that I expect from an oriental perfume, and also it smells plasticky to me. Asjacame out 15 years later, although the notes are similar, it is sweeter, fruitier, warmer, and has a little trace of metallic smell, which I like, probably due to cinnamon and carnation overdose.

Serge Lutens’ Bois Et Fruits (1992)

Serge Lutens Bois Et Fruits, EDP, 50ml
© Victor Wong

On the menu of Serge Lutens’ Oriental Cafe, there were quite a few of desserts for you to choose from. Most people ordered “Borneo 1834”, “Chegui”, and “Five O’Clock Au Gingembre” but on the bottom of the list there’s one called “Bois et Fruits”. I was curious and ordered one. The waiter brought it out in a beautiful bowl with an Arabic motif. The dessert smelled like a fruit cake, but the fruits were of not the typical kind – plums, figs, peaches and apricots. What’s also unusual was spices that they used; I could smell nutmeg and cloves. The strangest part was the topping – the waiter asked if I wanted some, but really he didn’t expect me to say no, and he started grinding his mill. I looked down on my bowl, and to my horror I saw a bunch of pencil shavings. “Trust me, it’s good,” he said.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Premier Figuier (1994)

L'Artisan Parfumeur Primier Figuier Extreme EDP, 100ml, Limited Edition
© Victor Wong

My perfume addiction started only about two years ago. My focus at that time was niche perfumes, and I learned about different brands through Google search. I remember the search results back then always included L’artisan Parfumeur. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; they are one of the pioneers of niche perfumes. Today, the number of niche perfume houses have increased probably by tenfolds and the interests in L’artisan Parfumeurs perfumes have slowly been washed away from the shore of Google Search into the far away seas of ignored links. (My subjective observation, of course.)

One of the more famous L’artisan Parfumeur’s perfumes has to be Olivia Giacobetti’s Premier Figuier (1994). It’s the first perfume based upon the fig scent. I actually had never eaten fresh figs before I arrived in Canada, and now I have fallen in love with them. I even have a potted Italian fig tree (too bad it bears few fruits), so I know what the leaves and freshly pruned branches smell like. Premier Figuier captures the scents of leaves and fig fruit very well (together with the milkiness of a broken stalk), but I found it too bitter, and even smell of plastics. And the longevity is also pretty poor. It was really Olivia’s second fig perfume, “Philosykos” that stole my heart. It is in my opinion, a more polished and loveable version of Premier Figuier. But now I have discovered this irresistible limited edition of Premier Figuier (released 10 years ago?), I really don’t mind another fig perfume.

Cacharel’s Eden (1994)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The tourist board of Eden (1994) wants you to visit their “paradise”. On the pamphlet it shows a great illustration of a lush garden full of exotic flowers and greenery. People who have come back said great things about Eden, so I blindly joined the tour. When I arrived there, I knew something was wrong. Flowers didn’t smell exactly like flowers, and fruits didn’t taste exactly like fruits. Feeling a little bit bewildered, I decided to get back on the tour bus, but it was too late. A violent beast named chypre jumped out of a patchouli bush and sat on my face, forcing me to smell its giant butt. After struggling for a few hours, I managed to escape this horrific claustrophobic incident. Crazy as it might sound, the tour wasn’t so bad; it’s quite thrilling, if you like that kind of thing, although I know there are some people didn’t survive the tour.

Balmain’s Vent Vert (1947, reformulated 1991)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Vent Vert (1947) is one of those perfumes with a long history and is still available in the market. What it does not have is integrity and foresights from perfumers who were responsible for its reformations over the years. It has gone through at least three reformulations, and Luca Turin announces in his book that Vent Vert, is dead. If it is dead, Balmain reformulated the corpse one more time and has given it a new packaging and a new price tag, 75 Euros for 75ml instead of $50 for 100ml.

The bottle I have, I believe, is the 1999’s reformulation (the dead one), and it smells ok. Actually very good, but as I have read enough negative reviews, I do not dare to say it’s great. (Kind of like saying the latest Adam Sandler’s movie is great very loudly in a movie critics convention.) But I like it as is – a little bit green and bitterness, rosy and a little bit powdery, and I do not feel like spending more money trying to find the vintage vintage versions on eBay. But I can imagine the glory Vent Vert had had when it came out – “With its famous overdose of the ingredient galbanum, which imparts a bitter-green freshness to scents, Vent Vert is herbs, bent stems and roses.”, writes Barbara Herman in her book, Scent & Subversion. Let’s be complacent that I have the better version of Vent Vert at a greater price than the newest one.

P.S. Actually I have never smelled the newest one. I wonder if it is better?

[A reader has informed me that my bottle, in fact, is not the latest reformulation (which is dreadful), but a still good reformulation.]