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.

Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima’s Nettuno (2016)

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Mendittorosa’s Nettuno © Victor Wong. Painting by William Hawkins

In 2006, Pluto was declassified and no long considered a planet in our Solar System. I was giddy about the declassification because Gustav Holst’s “The Planet” orchestral suite was perfect again. (Finished in 1916, Pluto was discovered in 1930, so the suite didn’t have Pluto in it.) Later I discovered that the declassification had caused other problems – people who were “governed” by Pluto suddenly had lost their planet and the astrologists needed to come up with some excuse to sooth the lost souls. One astrologist on TV said, “it doesn’t matter. It still is governing you.”

At one point I found astrology fun and briefly wondered if people were governed by big bodies in outer space. However, the most interesting talk about “something governing something” was given by my computer science professor who casually mentioned the father of computer science, Alan Turing and his “Turing Machine” – Can everything be represented by a Turing Machine? If so, does that mean our future is predetermined? It was mind boggling, also, I nearly failed the class.

So I found Mendittorosa’s Nettuno inspired by the planet Neptune quite interesting, and thought it’s about time that someone made a perfume dedicated to a planet. But, why Neptune? On their website it says, “Nettuno Extrait de Parfum is the scented vision of mirror of the soul, olfactory tribute to the Neptune. Mesmeric cosmic dust, planetary mirror of our potential, astral reflections of infinite freedom and possibilities.”

What this perfume has succeeded, is the ability to release a wonderment, mysteriousness and etherealness. It is both light and dark, rich, and very abstract. It shoots out dusty powdery pastel floral colours (iris and musk) that contrast against a three dimensional, darker, slightly medicinal aroma space (leather, vetiver, nutmeg). The scent expands very quickly then slows down, and it is not easy to tell what notes are in this perfume. It never reaches full floral, and never touches full masculinity. But one really shouldn’t analyze too much, but enjoy the little cosmic space it has created.

Modern “Chypres”

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Serge Lutens’ Chypre Rouge & Grossmiths Golden Chypre © Victor Wong

I once wrote about Kenzo’s Parfum d’Ete and how much I liked it, and a Facebook friend told me I was a “closeted chypre lover”. Poor me, it’s not me who was in denial, it’s just that I didn’t know this summer perfume from the 90s was actually a chypre.

By “definition”, a chypre is a perfume with an accord composed of citrus, labdanum, oakmoss and musk. I am lucky to have a small decant of the very first chypre, “Chypre” by Coty (1917), so I know what this classic accord (perfume in this case) smells like, and without better words, it’s the “grandma” accord. The chypre accord is unique, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine if I say chypre is the colour brown, but you have never seen such color and I say it’s the result of mixing of yellow and blue and red, maybe you will have a hard time “visualizing” what it is like. However, if you have smelled it before and are able to “memorize” that smell, you can tell there are countless vintage perfumes that share the same chypre common denominator – one sniff and you can tell Guerlain’s Mitsouko is a chypre, Aromatic Elixir is a chypre, Dior’s Diorella is a chypre, Paloma Picasso is a chypre…

Then come the modern perfumes who claim that they are chypres, but I just couldn’t recognize them as chypres. You know, in the old days, in art classes as a kid you would draw people of different nationality circling around the Earth hand-in-hand, a Dutch is a white milkmaid wearing wooden shoes and an American wears a cowboy hat, but now I can call myself a Canadian but boy, do I look Chinese even holding a cup of Tim Hortons coffee. This chypre genre has blurred so much that my nose needs yoga training for flexibility and enlightenment.

Serge Luten’s Chypre Rouge (2006) and Grossmith’s Golden Chypre perhaps are two good examples of dubious chypres.

I remember two ladies in a Facebook fragrance group both say Chypre Rouge is one of their favourite perfumes. If I didn’t know the name of the perfume, just by the smell alone I can see why it’s attractive to them. It smells like the red gooseberry sauce that IKEA cafeteria serves when you order a plate of Swedish meatballs. On top of that, you have the beautiful sweet aroma of red wine mixed with honey. It’s quite romantic, “rouge”, maybe too sweet for me, but no way Jose it’s a chypre. I refuse to acknowledge it. Sorry. Ok, maybe, I don’t know, but the sweetness and fruitiness of this perfume cover whatever chypre element there is.

Grossmith’s Golden Chypre, on the other hand, is a real chypre, but it took me a few wearings to recognize it because the chypre part is very light. (I am sure some people can recognize it right away.) Golden Chypre really is golden, but not vulgar like Paco Robanne’s gold bar shaped bottle One Million, for the smell is like the shimmering blurry ocean of the California coast at dawn. Initially light and citrusy, then the warmth and the rich powderiness of geranium, accentuated by the spicy nutmeg and deep patchouli slowly spread around. The chypre-ness actually flashes before your nose when you first spray it, and shortly goes away like the Big Bang, and reappears faintly when the perfume reaches dry down. An excellent modern perfume, but not as “granny” as I would have expected from Grossmith, a brand since 1835.

Now I shall reach for my bottle of Kenzo’s Parfum d’Ete to study it again.

A comment from my Facebook friend, Henrique, on chypres:

I think that what people miss on the chypre is that it’s not a closed system. It’s a texture, an idea of contrast between the aforementioned elements. Like Fougere, the idea was abstract enough to let you modify those elements, extend it through the different fashions of each era. After all, if we made the definition stiff, what would come next wouldn’t be classified as a chypre. For me, for instance, the 80’s floral chypres are hardly classic chypres, but they are able to convey the light-darkness contrast in a different way.

Modern chypres do this also, but they are more subtle in this contrast. Still, they don’t claim to be classic chypres, so it does make sense. And for those that say they are repetitive, classic ones were also too, if you start to test one after the other you’ll see that. This is what happens when a trend, an idea or olfactory family becomes popular. The only difference is that classic chypres arrived on a time that we didn’t have social media to talk and compare them. And we didn’t have either as many launches as we have today, which makes this sameness pop out more easily.

And since you mention art, I would like to point out that many art movements rescue something from an old art movement and put it in perspective with what is happening at that moment. Perfume is not different and we shouldn’t expect the same olfactory themes to remain the same as the times goes by.

Atkinsons’ Amber Empire (2015)

Atkinsons' Amber Empire (2015) © Victor Wong
Atkinsons’ Amber Empire (2015) © Victor Wong

I remember listening to a radio show on which the host asked listeners to call in and talk about their favourite movie director. A guy called in and said his was Tim Burton. When asked which movies of Tim Burton he liked most and why, he could only name “Nightmare Before Christmas”. Ridicule ensued.

I was like that listener when I declared Maurice Roucel to be my favourite perfumer two years ago, partly because he was one of the very few high-profile perfumers whose name I could remember (due to CRNCNTWS, Can’t Remember Non-Chinese Names Too Well Syndrome), and also he was the nose of one of my favourite perfumes, Le Labo’s Jasmin 17. (I was senselessly madly in love with Le Labo back then.) However, I was very troubled by the fact that I didn’t care about his most famous work, Musc Ravageur.

Now I don’t think I have any favourite perfumer, although I have a few favourite perfumes and perfume genres.

I admire Mr. Roucel’s ability to create hits out of shoestring ingredient budgets, like DKNY’s Delicious (2004) and Nautica Voyage (2006). His style to me seems to be all over the place, but when he is given a bigger budget and freedom (this is purely my speculation), his affinity towards certain style of perfumes becomes more apparent.

When I found out recently he had created a perfume named “Amber Empire” for the British brand Atkinsons, I was very intrigued. To my knowledge, I don’t think he has designed any amber themed perfume before. And the main supporting note that he picked was unexpected, too – oolong tea (a type of Chinese green tea.) This big amber/tea combination is quite novel to me (Annick Goutal’s “Duel” being the only one that comes to mind), and neither ingredient steals the show. The opening is mildly sweet and herbal, like an ice tea sweetened by light brown sugar. Shortly after, the shy tobacco flavoured tea note appears and disappears. A rather simple and intoxicating perfume, both grand and unassuming at the same time, and it’s a joy to wear.

Byredo’s Mojave Ghost (2014)

Byredo's Mojave Ghost (2014)
Byredo’s Mojave Ghost (2014) © Victor Wong

I remember how disappointed I was when Mojave Ghost came out in 2014. It smelled pale, non-descript, something sweet, something faintly floral and fruity. Actually, this is what I get now; two years ago it was just a sweet nothing scent to me. I also remember when it debuted my fraghead coworker and I went to sniff it, and I said I didn’t find it interesting at all, but she said, “Oh really, I think this scent is so you.”

Two years later, out of boredom, I re-smelled again in a department store and suddenly I found it very attractive. The nuances that I didn’t detect all became vivid. Maybe on that day it was the first bottle I sniffed and my nose was very sensitive.

To me, Mojave Ghost is a bottle of irony. Firstly, It is supposed to be a soliflore, a fragrance that mimics the scent of a type of flower that blooms in the harsh condition in the Mojave desert. But I doubt most anyone has smelled it before. Has the perfumer succeeded in bringing you the scent of that flower with her creation? No one knows. Secondly, the nature of this scent is of a vague fruity floral perfume, kind of like the soft sweet scents of cactus pears or sugar-apples, but unnaturally, this perfume lasts and lasts for a whole day. My deduction is that in this perfume they use some very powerful and long lasting synthetic aroma chemicals or boosters to make it stick. A perfume that smells pale, subtle, rather complex and smooth but has such powerful longevity and yet no hard edges, is quite impressive to me.

At one point I wanted to learn perfumery and have bought an aroma chemicals starter set to play with, but I just didn’t have the time and diligence to explore. I don’t know how challenging it is to make something like Mojave Ghost, but I feel like you have to be a very well-trained perfumer to come up with something like it.

P.S. I got my bottle from eBay brand-new at a very good price and was surprised by the deal. Maybe it didn’t sell very well?

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.

Bogue’s Maai (Scent of Mystery Edition) 2015

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Bogue’s Maai (Scent of Mystery Edition) 2015 © Victor Wong

I had posted a photo of my “fragrance haul” in a Facebook perfume group, showing off my newly acquired scents from a trip, and a Facebook friend saw my bottle of Maai in the picture, and wrote the comment, “Maai is in the house!”

Yes, Maai is in the f**king house, finally. There’s a strange imagery came into my head, and it’s a Jenny Craig commercial; in it a once-overweight woman finally has shed all her extra pounds, and got accepted into the group of “normal” weight friends, full of joy and tears. I felt like I finally belonged, back to the mothership of sane people.

When Maai came out, it was almost like an unstoppable Internet forest fire in Fragrance County. Everyone was talking about it, and the fragrance friends whom I trusted by their taste in perfumes, all said Maai was amazing. I even got an unrequested sample sent to me from a friend as he couldn’t hold his love for this scent. I had talked to a person who had a shaving soap business suddenly asked if I liked Maai or not because he really loved it.

If I am asked to summarize my feeling for Maai, I would say this – it’s a fully restored, remastered, high definition vintage perfume. Everything that is typical in a vintage perfume, no matter it’s rose, oak moss, civet, or aldehyde, it’s so intense and rich and amped up, it’s like a Picasso cubist painting instead of a romanticism painting of angels. I think people are wondering if Antonio Gardoni has cheated and ignored IFRA safety guideline by pouring a gallon of real oakmoss in Maai with an evil grin (covered up by his beard) and mumbling in Italian, “fock you…”

That all being said, I didn’t love Maai. I liked it. Until I was at a fragrance show in LA, talking to a perfumer about her perfumes, and suddenly someone next to me sprayed some perfume onto a ceramic mask. I couldn’t hold myself, and said, “oh my god, what is this beautiful scent?” It was totally embarrassing because I was praising the scent coming from the next booth. Yes, it’s was Antonio next to me spraying Maai. BUT, not the regular Maai, but a modified version of Maai, called Scent of Mystery. He modified Maai by adding some beautiful gardenia, and amped up the concentration from 28% to 33%. It was so rich, floral, dirty, soapy and flirty it’s ridiculous. I succumbed, I had to get this special version. Now I think about it, maybe the original Maai wasn’t floral enough for me? How crazy.