Patchouli-themed Perfumes (Part 1)

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Patchouli perfumes: Noir Patchouli (Histoires de Parfums), Ylang 49 and Patchouli 24 (Le Labo), Patchouli Imperial (Christian Dior), Coromandel (Chanel) © Victor Wong

Three years ago, when my perfume journey just began, I had no idea what patchouli was, and what it smelled like. A small perfume shop sales lady had asked me many times what it smelled like too, for she thought I knew a lot about fragrances. (No I didn’t.) She was a bit embarrassed that she had no clue when her customers asked her to show them some patchouli-themed perfumes. I was more embarrassed; but I procrastinated almost two years before going to a all-natural supplement store and bought a small bottle of patchouli essential oil to smell. Now I know! (Dramatic lighting and a stern face.)

But before all that, my first patchouli perfume was Le Labo “Patchouli 24” (2006). This is the worst perfume to learn what patchouli smells like; as if someone shoves you a book on calculus when all you want to learn is multiplication. The smell of patchouli in this perfume is heavily masked by stronger smelling ingredients, and a lot of people argue that they can’t smell any patchouli it. (Now I can, thank goodness.)

Patchouli 24 is a challenging perfume, and I am grateful that it appeared at the beginning of my fragrance learning/appreciating journey – it has broadened my perfume palate, and set the possibility of what a $250 bottle of perfume could smell like. I didn’t have many perfumes back then, and I had spent considerably more time testing Patchouli 24 than I would for any perfumes today.

To me, Patchouli 24 is a heavy, tarry, medicinal perfume that smells like Chinese medicine pills with no sugar coating, and is made out of tree barks, 3/4 spoonful of tar, and one burnt tire of a Matchbox toy car. My love for Patchouli 24 suddenly sparked when I wore a sample one day while raking my garden. It was a cold, moist day, and I was perspiring heavily, and streams of P24 steam rose from under the neck of my hoodie. It was a beautiful melancholic “picture”; I stopped raking, and looked at all the bare trees around me standing in silence in front of a big grey sky. I dropped the rake and got back in the house to order a bottle.

My second “patchouli” perfume was, interestingly, Le Labo Ylang 49, but I didn’t know it until I blind-bought a second-hand bottle of Noir Patchouli from Histoire de Parfums from a friend. In fact, I remember some Youtube reviewer talking about Ylang 49, calling it a scrubber and a strong patchouli perfume. When I first smelled Noir Patchouli, my initial reaction was, damn it’s Ylang 49, except it’s cleaner, smokier and less floral. To me Ylang 49 is Noir Patchouli in drag and he fakes his tropical ylang ylang smile like the giant head of a theme park mascot. By that time, I had a strong idea of what patchouli smelled like and how it’s usually used in a composition.

To be continued…

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Etat Libre d’Orange’s Secretions Magnifiques (2006)

Etat Libre d’Orange's Secretions Magnifiques (2006)
Etat Libre d’Orange’s Secretions Magnifiques (2006) © Victor Wong

Note: The piece of writing contains adult subject matter, reader’s discretion is advised. ‪#‎hehe‬

Dismissing or making fun of Secretions Magnifiques is easy. Trashing it entertainingly requires some flair and effort. But I am here to say why I like this fragrance, as you know, like for every thousand haters of John Water’s movies there’s at least a fan. (A friend told me that I was the second person he knew who liked Secretions Magnifiques and I asked if he was the first one and he said yes.)

But first, I want to say something about the smell of human secretions, particularly semen.

When I was studying in university, I lived in a dormitory. I had two very good friends who also lived in the same wing of the complex, and we frequented each other’s rooms for instant noodles and study notes. One evening Dave wanted to return a computer game he had borrowed from Tony and go to the cafeteria together afterwards. We knocked on Tony’s door a few times, and many minutes later he let us in. Dave put down the computer game on his desk and started sniffing, “wow, what smells so fragrant here?” Tony immediately said in an annoying voice, “hey, let’s go.”

Well, I was pretty certain we had just smelled Tony’s secretion magnifique – post-masturbation paper tissue clean up in the waste basket next to his desk. It was very awkward, of course, but now I think about it, isn’t it amusing that Dave’s candid reaction of Tony’s secretion was “what smells so fragrant”?

I have never given much thought about the smell of semen, but now I think it has two aspects – the easily spoiled milky smell of protein, and something that smells fragrant and musky. And this is why I think the perfumer of Secretions Magnifiques, Antonie Lie, has successfully captured the essence of the smell of bodily secretions and reinterpreted it in an artful way in the form of a perfume – a mix of something fragrant (iris aldehyde floral accord) and something repulsive (seaweed / coconut milk / metallic accord).

Some reviewers say that Secretions Magnifiques smells like semen but I think that’s just their imagination. No, it doesn’t smell like semen. It’s a floral perfume with a disturbing high dosage of metallic accord. Luca Turin praised Secretions Magnifiques in his 5-star review (which I thought was over-blown) and he described it as a “nautical floral”, which to a certain degree I agree. (The nautical part probably comes from seaweed.)

I fell deeply in love with the coconut iris accord of Secretions Magnifiques, which is absolutely beautiful and powdery. If that accord is to be extracted and released as a perfume I would instantly buy it, only until a few weeks later I would be bored with it. It is this crazy combination of floral and metallic notes that make this perfume a fun challenge to wear. This is not a beginner’s perfume; (similar examples such as Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle, Amouage’s Opus VIII) it is for those who have a broad palette for unusual perfumes and challenging accords. When I am bored, I crave for a spray of Secretions Magnifiques on the back of my hand. But never more than three sprays. Never.

Six L’Artisan Parfumeur Perfumes…

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L’Artisan Parfumeur’s perfumes © Victor Wong

It’s a bit surprising to find out that L’Artisan is a 40 year old “niche perfume” company and have published nearly 80 perfumes, and I am glad that they are still here.

Although I really like the new 2016 packaging design of L’Artisan, I see it as a signal for me to bite the bullet and buy some of the bottles with the old design that I’ve always wanted – my collection will look better, also right now the prices are really good on eBay.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’eau du Caporal (1985)

L’eau du Caporal, one of the earliest releases, is a scent that’s supposed to make you smell like a handsome corporal with perfect pearly teeth on the cover a paperback romance novel. To me, it’s a combo scent of fresh breath after a vigorous gargling of spearmint mouthwash (that lasts and lasts), and a light fougere with hints of lavender and patchouli that fights your perspiration under that blue stiff jacket. The combined effect is actually quite unusual (light manly minty cologne), I have never smelled anything like it, and it doesn’t smell dated at all.

L’artisan Parfumeur’s Seville a L’aube (2012)

I’ve heard many good things about Seville a L’aube and some people call it the reference orange blossom perfume. I can see why, but somehow any perfumes with an orange blossom theme tend to smell similar, like any vanilla themed dessert when you start putting strawberries or chocolate on top it’s no longer a vanilla themed dessert.

I over-applied this perfume once by reflex action because it’s a L’Artisan perfume – they rarely last more than three hours on me, but this time I was wrong. It stays with me like a bucket of orange blossom concentrate that has rained on me in the movie Carrie. Luckily, the scent has a soapy vibe; I smell like I have taken a really good shower.

L’artisan Parfumeur’s Mimosa Pour Moi (1992)

Before smelling Mimosa Pour Moi and Diptyque’s Mimosa candles, I only had a vague understanding of what mimosa really smelled like because they are often blended in perfumes to give some olfactive effect. (Kind of like flour mixed into oil to make gravy; it thickens a perfume to make it smells gelatinous. I sound like a lunatic, don’t I?)

I can’t say I am crazy about the scent of mimosa, and it has a smell that I can’t describe perfectly – it smells resinous and a bit raw and vegetal but not completely; and I can’t even say it smells floral to me. It’s just strange.

Mimosa Pour Moi to me is a perfume for reference. It’s not complicated at all, it’s just… mimosa and something light. It doesn’t bring me much joy but more like an enlightenment.

L’Artisan Parfume’s Passage d’Enfer (1999)

The translated French title is “Passage to Hell”. With a name like this, how come no one talks about it? If it really were a passage to hell, you are going to be greeted by a silly golden retriever licking your face and a welcome basket of kittens.

This is a 17 year old incense themed perfume and it still smells modern and “niche” by today’s standard, but it doesn’t have a distinct, opulent or bad boy character of today’s incense perfumes. It is light, airy, mildly sweet, woody scent infused with a little bit of lily. If you like Le Labo’s prohibitively expensive Gaiac 10 perfume, this is the incense version of it.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mandarine (2006)

I got this when L’Artisan put everything on sale to get rid of the old packaging, and possibly this one for good. This scent reminds me of two things – hotel lobby and Tang artificial orange powder drink.

The opening is a refreshing, friendly, mildly sweet citrus scent with ginger to make it slightly exotic, but this blend smells like the lobby of a few hotels that I have stayed in Hong Kong, which runs powerful aroma diffusers 24/7. The scent is nice and inoffensive, and even my friend has been looking for this scent for his home ever since he returned. Now if I wear Mandarine next to him, he might ask if I have just visited Hong Kong.

The mid phase of this scent is Tang orange powder that has made millions of kids fat, unfortunately I am one of the victims, and the needle is hovering between “you ruined me” and “why does it smell powdery” and wouldn’t stop like a sine curve for an hour or so.

Eventually it settles into a sweet, mild ambery orangey skin scent that would smell nice on anybody on a summer day.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fou d’Absinthe (2006)

From zero interest to full-blown love. It wasn’t the most interesting scent from L’artisan when I started exploring the line and the 1ml sample didn’t help. Now I find absinthe smell more interesting than vetiver and this scent is elegant like Chanel’s Sycomore, “barbershop-style humble”, manly, but staying 10 yards away from the gang who wears Drakkar Noir. An elegant classic.

Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre (2000)

Frederic Malle's Iris Poudre (100ml)
Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre (100ml) © Victor Wong

Many years ago a date told me that I was not a romantic person. I wasn’t amused, but I knew he was right. (He asked for a puppy on our third date and I said no.) I suspect my friends secretly appreciate that I am not romantic, too – I’ve told them no gifts for my birthday, just show up for dinner and cake, and also no Christmas gift exchanges, etc. (Yes, I consider this a sort of romanticism.) I also told my partner no need for tall roses on Valentines for the cat will knock the vase down. (But I do buy him gifts; I am not a cheapo and/or heartless person.) Now that I have confessed, I might as well tell you that I tested my Frederic Malle samples while sitting in a loo.

Three years ago when my niche perfume obsession had just begun, I didn’t know much, except department stores would not give out samples unless you bought a bottle. I ordered my Frederic Malle samples from eBay, and strangely they were shipped from Poland. Anyway, I was too excited when I received them in the mail, but suddenly I needed to use the washroom, and I took the samples there with me to test. Frederic Malle should take this as a compliment, for I was so eager to test them.

To tell you the truth, at that time, I didn’t find any FM samples particularly impressive, or I should say, they didn’t blow my mind, and it had nothing to do with the aura inside the bathroom. There were some samples that I found interesting, but the one that left me with a strong impression was Iris Poudre. “Wow, this is so granny and simple. It’s just iris and baby powder. It’s nice, but I can never wear this.” I put it back in the bubble envelope.

In fact, after three years of buying countless perfumes and samples, I still have not forgotten Iris Poudre. It is still “granny smelling” to me, but I have never encountered an iris perfume as beautiful and as straightforward as Iris Poudre. When I say straightforward, I mean there is no mistake that iris is the star of the perfume.

To me, Iris Poudre would be a heavy floral if the perfumer didn’t add a hefty dose of aldehyde in it. Powdery amber, musks, carnation, rose, ylang, vanilla, sandalwood, they are all beautiful and sensual, Victorian-esque, decked-up-doll-face-feminine and rich. But with citrus and aldehyde, the perfume suddenly smells airy and atmospheric, like giving life and airiness to some dull egg white by whisking it vigorously.

In retrospect, I don’t enjoy Frederic Malle as much possibly due to the fact that I am not romantic. Frederic Malle’s perfumes are very elegant, non-adventurous, fine-tuned, proper, classically designed, and yes, some quite romantic. If you are a woman who dresses for the occasion and you are wearing Iris Poudre, I can’t imagine any man wouldn’t find you elegant and sophisticated. But between “romanticism” and “please tell me a horror story”, I choose the latter; however, there are exceptions, and Iris Poudre is something that my mouth says no, but my heart says yes.

P.S. I bought my bottle of Iris Poudre in 2016 and I think it’s not as strong and “granny” as the sample I tested years ago. It actually smells “younger”. Maybe a reformulation has given it a facelift.

Christian Dior’s Eau Noire (2004)

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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.

Giorgio Armani’s Bois d’Encens (2004)

Giorgio Armani's Bois d'Encens (2004)
Giorgio Armani’s Bois d’Encens © Victor Wong

The coworker sitting next to me is a 30-something year old man who immigrated from Pakistan to Canada when he was a young teenager. He is a video game level designer, and every afternoon he takes a break and goes to pray at a prayer center unexpectedly located within walking distance from our office above an auto repair shop, and returns to work with a Wendy’s milkshake most of the time. He loves anime and wears a different nerdy T-shirt to work everyday like I wear a different perfume. He is familiar with both the Middle Eastern culture and the Western culture, and has a very liberal heart (I would say he has “synced up” with the Canadians’ worldview), a 100% nice guy, and also a devout Islamic follower. But little does he know, he has a more important purpose in life – a guinea pig for the perfumes that I develop with my perfumers.

“Here, smell this.” I don’t know how many times I have handed him a paper napkin, marked with a number and sprayed with some work-in-progress perfumes.

“Not bad,” “it’s very nice,” “this smells like a spice cabinet,” “this smells like attar from Pakistan,” “please flush it away, now, immediately” are some of his typical comments.

Then one time he said, “This is not perfume. It’s nice, I would wear this, but my wife will hate it. And really, this is not perfume.”

I was deeply worried, for the perfume that I just showed him was almost done, and “it’s not a perfume”.

A few days later while looking for a stapler, I found a sample of Armani’s Bois d’Encens in my drawer, and sprayed some on myself. Out of curiosity, I asked him for his opinion on this perfume.

“This is not perfume.”

“Say again? Did you know this is fricking Armani? I mean, would Armani release a perfume that is not perfume?”

“I know some Middle Eastern guys would wear this, but I can’t detect any florals in it, and it’s just wood and incense. My wife would not let me wear this in the house. No, it’s not perfume.”

The sky suddenly cleared – he needed a new life. No, a new wife. No, not really, but now I know I could release any perfumes that I like without worrying too much what other people think. I have to trust my taste.

To be fair, Bois d’Encens is a very straight forward perfume, exactly like what the title suggests, it is just woods and incense, with pink pepper, labdanum and vetiver. But the simplicity demands your attention and respect – it’s a tall, dark, austere smelling scent. When wearing it, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.

Amouage’s Jubilation 25 for Women (2008)

Amouage's Jubilation 25 for Women, EDP © Victor Wong
Amouage’s Jubilation 25 for Women, EDP © Victor Wong

The joy and awe of wearing Amouage Jubilation 25 for Women for the first time is similar to receiving a brand new car of your favorite color named The Goddess of Aldehyde. As you sit in the comfortable back seat, a LCD screen pops up and a mini documentary (narrated in a sexy French voice) of how this car got its perfect multi-color perfumery paint job starts to play…

Mists of aroma get applied to the body layer by layer, first with a feathery light base coat of resins, musks and golden amber, then slightly darker and richer colors of patchouli, rose and incense, not very strong, but they are there. Lastly, fine mists of ylang, lemon and tarragon, whitened to a pastel palette by the powdery labdanum, gives it a smooth warm fruity hue. A final layer of aldehyde is applied to give it a bright and light sheen. No dripping, no fingerprints, just gloss and the reflection of your smile.

The LCD panel slowly sinks back in, and you are greeted by the look of yourself in the rear view mirror finding a glamorous, not bitchy, sophisticated woman, even if you are a man. Now, reach in your invisible handbag and get that pair of retro sunglasses and Hermes scarf and wear them. Yes, perfect.

Sorry, I got carried away. Yes, men can wear it. I think.

I can’t stress how much I love aldehydic perfumes, with Arpege being my number one. Now with Jubilation 25, I’m afraid there is going to be a spectacular WWE fight between the two Victorian ladies, slapping each other’s face with their pocket folding fans. Jubilation 25 doesn’t smell revolutionary, actually almost like a tribute to all fine aldehydic chypre perfumes of the 80s – except that the materials smell richer and yet the perfume wears lighter – how strange is that?