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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Chanel’s No. 22 Eau de Toilette (1922)

Chanel No. 22 © Victor Wong
Chanel No. 22 © Victor Wong

I learned about Chanel’s products more than I needed when I was purchasing No.22 at a department store. For example, the sales lady recommended the $700 Chanel’s Le Blanc cosmetic set to help me fight my 40-year-long battle of my Asian face vs my freckles; reaffirmed that Chanel’s exclusive perfumes are the cheapest in the world, and Chanel perfumes sold in Canada are made in Paris while those sold in America are made in America. (Tsk tsk, not as good!) But what I really didn’t want to know was that Chanel No. 22 was softer than No. 5.

You see, I bought No. 22 because I wanted to pour aldehyde over my head like the ice bucket challenge. Luca Turin comically said in his review of No. 22 that it had “the largest dose of aldehydes a human can stand without fainting”. And here the sales lady was telling me, “No, No. 22 is softer than No. 5! I prefer it to No. 5.” She totally, unintentionally, violently ripped off the t-shirt with a big number 22 printed on from my body in the middle of the store. I felt embarrassed and cold. She continued, “Also, it came before No. 5.” And I asked, “Why is the number bigger if it came before No. 5?” She answered with a smile. (The correct answer is No. 22 was released in 1922. Furthermore, Chanel.com confirms that No. 22 is a light version of No. 5.)

I don’t know how many different kinds of aldehyde are out there, but I really like Chanel’s aldehyde-heavy perfumes; how they overdosed it like someone was tickling the perfumer as he poured aldehyde into the flask. However, when the aldehyde party is over, the base of No. 22 smells quite like many vintage perfumes that I own – vetiver, vanilla, rose and tonka. I honestly don’t care; I just want my aldehyde fix.

My hippie mountain-climbing coworker once awkwardly told me how he felt about Coca-Cola: “Nothing in the world tastes like it, but it’s so good but so full of chemical.” Same applies to the smell of No. 22 and No. 5.

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 7 – Le Labo’s Aldehyde 44 (2006)

Le Labo Aldehyde 44, © Victor Wong
Le Labo Aldehyde 44, © Victor Wong

[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]

Pt. VII. Playing Hard to Get – Le Labo’s Aldehyde 44

An animal figurine collectible manufacturer confesses in their collector’s handbook that when they first started their company, they were a little clueless. At a gift show, a businessman told them that they had some great products, but they weren’t exactly in the collectible business yet. He gave them invaluable advice on how a proper collectible company operates: some pieces should be limited editions while others should be retired, and a collector’s club should be formed.

As I was reading it, I felt that I was a little tool, being manipulated by their collectible business strategy. But, I’ll be damned, I felt happy collecting them. Without scarcity, there’s no appreciation of value, no thrill from competing to own before others, no fun and no need to collect. If you think about it, all products except Cream of Chicken discontinue some day. By telling you it’s limited edition, you suddenly feel that you need to get it now.

But how do you create scarcity without discontinuing a product? Limiting its distribution channel and marking up the price, maybe? Guerlain, Roja, Robert Piguet and many perfume companies have one or two perfumes created just for the luxury London department store Harrods. You go there to get slaughtered and come home smiling with a bottle that you think only a few people on this planet have. The price of “exclusive” perfumes are often double the street price of their regular line, for two reasons I can think of. The shop carrying them will be happily perceived as selling only to the rich and powerful; and because the exclusive products are not conveniently available, for a perfume house to recoup the cost of developing the perfume and make as much money as their regular line, they mark up the price even higher.

At the beginning I thought I could make some decent sales of my perfumes through my online shop exclusively, but they weren’t as rosy as I originally had imagined. (I even fantasized that I could quit my day job as soon as I had started my shop.) I had always thought my products were unique, but in the world of perfumes, they were only as unique as the pink balls in an IKEA kiddie ball pool. Reality is brutal, and since then I have been thinking of asking other online and retail shops to carry my products. I had walked into a niche perfume shop in Toronto and had a good conversation with the owner. During the conversation I suddenly had an urge to suggest, “How about I develop a perfume just for your shop? Please carry my products?”

And that was why I thought Le Labo was so ballsy. Their Aldehyde 44 was a Texas department store exclusive, but unfortunately that department went out of business, and Le Labo discontinued Aldehyde 44 altogether, instead of selling it online or getting another store to carry them as an exclusive. I have spent a considerable amount money developing my own perfumes, and discontinuing a perfume like that was like throwing money down the drain. But Le Labo is rich, and they have probably recouped all their development cost from just selling 50 bottles. (Best example is their Geranium 30 perfume. It’s limited edition, and they made only 100 bottles at $250 each. Assuming that they’ve made a profit, now you know how crazy their markups are.)

There are many books on luxury marketing, and I vividly remember some of the key points from those: Never reduce but always increase your price, never go on sale, the more difficult to get the better. And people buy that.