Fendi’s Fendi (EDT, 1985)

Fendi's Fendi (1985) EDT © Victor Wong
Fendi’s Fendi (1985) EDT © Victor Wong

There is a good reason why Fendi’s debut perfume is discontinued – it’s not an unique perfume. I know, this is crazy, I’ve spent good effort and money finding this perfume and I am now badmouthing it. (But not really, read on.)

At the same time, it is one of the most sought after discontinued perfumes. Go search on eBay and the price is a good indication. I think I know why people miss it so much. If all the strict IFRA ingredient bans and regulations really are meant for protecting consumers, wearing Fendi from 1985 might give you some serious cancer. I mean, it is such a rich and potent perfume, (and it’s just an EDT), the oakmoss is real and fat, the leather is fat , the florals are fat, it’s just phat and bad ass with no implants and zippers are useless. The opening almost smells like cognac, then instantly the curtains are pulled wide open, it’s an all-you-can-eat chypre buffet. It’s the epitome of the opposite of a reformulation, it’s a fragrance porn.

One of my coworkers has really big boobs. One day we were walking down the street to the bus stop and we stopped at the red light. A huge truck tried to make a right turn and I saw the truck driver’s eyes keep staring at my coworker’s boobs as he steered the 10 ton truck. I was afraid the trunk might flip on us because her boobs distorted gravity. Yes, she definitely can rock Fendi.

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Acqua di Parma’s Iris Nobile EDP (2006)

Acqua Di Parma's Iris Nobile, © Victor Wong
Acqua Di Parma’s Iris Nobile, © Victor Wong

I was greedy. I didn’t take the advice from a fragrance reviewer and bought the Eau de Parfum version of Iris Nobile instead of the Eau de Toilette version. I thought, with a bit more money, why not get the EDP that would last on me longer?

At the department store, I took a sniff of the bottle cap sprayed with some EDT, then the one with some EDP. I thought they smelled identical. When I reached home and started using my bottle of EDP, the bubbly effervescent, refreshing effect that I got from the EDT wasn’t there anymore. Instead of Orangina, I got orange juice. Instead of Aero, I got Kisses. Instead of Lady Gaga, I got Lady Haha. (In Spanish that’s Lady Jaja.)

Actually, from a discussion on Facebook about a year ago, I had learned that there were some, or even significant differences between the EDP/EDT and the Parfum of the same fragrance – different priorities and different concentration of perfumery notes for each version. In Roja Dove’s “The Essence of Perfume”, he writes that, “Many great fragrances were only made as Perfume, and an assistant perfumer would create the Eau de Toilette, sometimes many years later.”

Now I realize that there’s quite a bit difference between an EDT and an EDP.

Well, I still enjoy Iris Nobile EDP very much. Instead of hopscotching I don’t mind sitting down and have some tea. (Here I go again.) What I’ve got is an iris perfume that is not powdery. This is almost a first for me. It opens with a hint of star anise (again, unexpected), then transitions into what I call a pale, dusty light floral area filled with toned down tuberose, jasmine and ylang-ylang, (the exact opposite would be Annick Goutal’s Songes, same ingredients but measured with a ladle instead of teaspoon), backflips three times, tears aways her white gym clothes to reveal her true self – a very light chypre.

Acca Kappa’s Giardino Segreto (2013)

Acca Kappa Giardino Segreto © Victor Wong
Acca Kappa Giardino Segreto © Victor Wong

I rarely find modern perfumes for men interesting, particularly of designer brands. Chanel Bleu, Yves Saint Laurent’s L’Homme, Paco Robanne’s Invictus are all big yawners for me. (But I occasionally find them sexy-smelling as long as it’s not me who’s wearing them.) Even niche perfume house such as Amouage is no exception. I regret buying Amouage’s Epic and Memoir for Man, for they once smelled epic and memoir to me, but now they are so boring. I should have bought the woman’s versions instead.

But I guess I can understand why I don’t like typical men’s fragrance. The easy one first: I like florals. Even though most men’s fragrances contain florals, they never go above and beyond. The second reason is that I just can’t see myself a good match to any of the marketing images the perfume companies want me to think I would look like after wearing their fragrances. In fact, my co-workers have told me that I look, act, and speak like a comic character. (It’s bad, right?) The way I draw, I write, my gestures, the things that I like are all comical, according to them. And Mr. Potato wears Eau de Sour Crème, not Chanel Bleu.

Last time I was in Hong Kong I saw an Acca Kappa fragrance shop for the very first time. That got me very excited because I didn’t recall anyone talk about this line of fragrances on Facebook; I thought I could get a bottle and brag a little. What’s more, they only sell men’s fragrances! Look at their logo! Tools from a men’s barbershop! Wonderful! I can finally select a men’s fragrance without any distractions. After smelling the whole shop, the ones that immediately grabbed my attentions were “Giardino Segreto” (Secret Garden) and “Calycanthus”.

Giardino Segreto has a lot of stuff in it, yet it doesn’t smell too “rich” or heavy. It smells sophisticated and old worldly. It has some heavy dose of pink peppercorn, together with patchouli and vetiver, this combo almost smells like some very high quality tea. There’s also some rose, woods and spice, just wonderful.

I bought it and thought, “Finally a great men’s fragrance!” Just as I was writing this review, I found out from their website that they carry both men’s and women’s perfumes, and Giardino Segreto is for woman. You Italians making a fool out of me ya!!!

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 8 – Guerlain’s Mitsouko (1919)

Guerlain Mitsouko © Victor Wong
Guerlain Mitsouko © 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. VIII. Synthetic Notes in Perfumery – Guerlain’s Mitsouko

A fish that was thought to have gone extinct 66 millions years ago was discovered in 1938 on a local fishing trawler. Nicknamed the “Living Fossil”, coelacanth has no close relations alive, and was thought to have evolved into roughly its current form approximately 400 million years ago. Many scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the coelacanth represent an early step in the evolution of fish to terrestrial four-legged animals like amphibians.*

That was a major discovery in the world of natural history, but my “living fossil” discovery in the perfume world was Guerlain’s Mitsouko (1919).

A perfume created almost 100 years ago and is still in production, Mitsouko is a resilient survivor in the vast sea of perfumes. I can walk into any major department store and buy a bottle of Mitsouko, and I do not need to worry too much about it getting discontinued any time soon. Perfumistas, especially die-hard Guerlain fans, regard Mitsouko as a classic, and if you meet one, they will probably yap about it. Well, I only knew about Mitsouko through reading Luca Turin’s perfume review book. When I first started exploring perfumes, I was overwhelmed by the amount of perfumes out there, had never heard of the brand Guerlain, and got obsessed with testing out Le Labo and L’Artisan Parfumeur samples, and sniffing Byredos and Tom Fords.

To be honest, I am never too crazy about Mitsouko. I think it’s an acquired taste. I remember just before smelling it the very first time, I stood in front of the Guerlain counter, looking at the French-toast-shaped bottle, and thought, “This is it. This is the legendary perfume.” I had such high expectation for it and my mind was all prepared for the most amazing scent ever, and when the scent hit my nose, I didn’t know how to react. I was stunned by something so unexpectedly non-contemporary – it’s not exactly floral, not exactly powdery, not exactly sweet, not exactly fruity, not Chanel No. 5-style aldehydic… if all the perfumery keyword words were represented by circles in a Venn diagram, Mitsouko fell right outside of the chart, not belonging to any category. (That’s because I was a newbie and didn’t know what a chypre perfume was, but again, if you ask me to show you a typical chypre now, I wouldn’t not pick Mitsouko but Estee Lauder’s Knowing.)

So getting acquainted with Ms. Mitsouko was a valuable lesson for me, as if I had got a “vintage perfume vaccination shot” – bring it on, I can love all vintage perfumes! (Hugging Lanvin’s Arpege so hard till she says let go of me.)

One interesting tidbid of information about Mitsouko that I learned from reading Roja Dove’s “The Essense of Perfumes” was its first use of Aldehyde C 14 in fine perfumery. Mitsouko is quite famous for its peachy note, and it is Aldehyde C 14 you are smelling. I haven’t seen anyone complain about it but praise it. On the Internet I have seen quite a few people who think that a perfume must smell better if natural ingredients are used instead of synthetics. I used to think that way too, but Chris Bartlett, the perfumer of my perfume Beaver, wrote in an interview** that he thinks that synthetics are very important in modern perfumery because if a perfume is all natural, the smell couldl easily turn “muddy”, and a modern fragrance needs an artificial skeleton to support it.

A lot of niche perfume companies like to emphasis the use of uncommon or hard to harvest natural ingredients and charge a hefty price, while I am sure they bring something special to the perfumes, but look at Mitsouko, a relatively simple perfume (according to Roja Dove), archieving the classic status with the use of a brave new synthetic note of the time and masterful perfumery skill.

Source:

* Coelacanth, Wikipedia

**Aroma Chemicals and the Indie Perfumer, an Interview with Chris Bartlett of Pell Wall Perfumes. Basenotes.net

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 5: Creed’s Aventus (2010)

Youtube Review of Aventus by Jeremy Fragrance
Youtube Review of Aventus by Jeremy Fragrance

[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. V. What Does a Perfume Mean to Men and Women? – Creed’s Aventus

After spending three years reading posts on various Facebook fragrance groups and perfume review sites on an almost daily basis, I have noticed a huge difference between non-editorial posts made by men and women.

My observation tells me that men are more obsessed with their perfumes, such as their manufacturer batch numbers, and are more eager to show off what they have on Facebook. But the amount of details are often lacking, resulting in just a “Scent of the Day” photo of their perfume sitting on a kitchen counter, with a comment like, “This juice is amazing”. We already know that men are “visual”, may be a photo is really all you need to communicate with other men, just like if you post a photo of yourself sitting in a Porsche with a babe feeding you a banana, what really do you need to write about? “This banana has a linear fragrant indolic tropical fruity note, but it has a soft silky smooth texture. (Almost too slippery.) It is best eaten on a cold winter day, highly recommended”?

In a male-dominated group, I feel like the quality of a fragrance is often judged by how cool the bottle and the packaging look, how expensive it is, how hard it is to get, and how often it appears in the group. Of course, the fragrance itself needs to be good enough for a hype storm to form, but once it has started, it seems almost unstoppable. The best example I’ve seen is Creed’s Aventus. I don’t own a bottle, but the amount of “love” and Scent of the Day posts it has gotten makes it impossible not make you at least smell it at a department store once. Just two days ago before I wrote this post I saw a man buying a bottle at a department store without sniffing it for more than a split second. He told the sales that everyone said good things about Aventus online.

The Lady of Shallot (1888) by John William Waterhouse
The Lady of Shallot (1888) by John William Waterhouse

Posts made by women are a different animal. A photo of the actual perfume bottle is not necessary, but the quality of the writing and the imagery that it provokes do make a difference. (A panoramic landscape photo or an exotic painting complementing the review always help.) Where would this fragrance take you to? An enchanted garden with wisps flying around you? An unforgettable encounter with a romantic medieval knight who invites you to a grand ball and breaks your heart with some mercilessly hard bottom notes? A thorny dark rose that wraps around you like a soft blanket? Wearing this you’ll meet a tall dark stranger…

A few years ago I read an article on the differences between public toilet stall graffiti made by men and women. Studies found that men were more likely to write insults and nasty comments, and doodle penises to reinforce their dominance. For women, the washroom was a sacred place of reflection and confession, and they more often wrote about relationships, religion and philosophy.

Furthermore, I have watched a crowd-funding pitch video by a woman who wanted to create some “engineering toys for girls” called GoldieBlox. The toy set included a board with a grid of holes, some spinners, rods and ribbons and a book of challenges. Note that it’s a book, not instructions on a single-sided piece of paper. The creator said that boys liked building and girls liked reading; if you pour a bucket of Lego blocks on the floor that might not be enough to entice girls to play. You also give them something to read along.

These two seemingly unrelated pieces of information might explain a little about the phenomena I see online. I wonder, for my perfume to succeed, maybe it needs both a rocking packaging design and a potential story for people to tell?

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 4: Le Labo’s Iris 39 (2006)

Le Labo Iris 39 © Victor Wong
Le Labo Iris 39 © 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. IV. Perfume and Gender – Le Labo’s Iris 39

Spring, 2013

Dear Le Labo,

I have a question about your fragrances. Are they all unisex? That’s the feeling I get from browsing your website. However, upon closer examination of the product photos, some bottle labels read “Femme” and some “Homme”. So I guess they are not unisex? I am a man and really like your Iris 39 fragrance, but it reads “Femme” on the label.

Sincerely Yours,
Victor


Dear Victor,

Iris 39 is an unisex fragrance. Just ignore those photos with our old labels and buy all our products.

Yup,
Le Labo.


Not exactly what they wrote, but I got the idea – not too long ago, Iris 39 was a women’s fragrance, but by not specifying which gender it’s for, the potential market simply had doubled.

But I knew Iris 39 was for women, because it smelled just too beautiful to me. There were no rough edges, just very rich powdery green iris mixed with a little bit of ginger juice, a hint of some sweet bread smell, and a drop of sweat from the baker lady who is looking at you tenderly in a softly lit morning kitchen while she kneads the dough.

I wore Iris 39 perfume and went out only twice; one time taking a subway and an older woman sitting in front of me looked at me with an ambiguous smile, as if she was telling me, “You smelled nice, but son, it’s a women’s perfume you are wearing.” The other time I wore it to work, and I had to walk over to a programmer’s cubicle to talk to him about some bugs. I could hear he was listening to some death metal; and as he saw me coming he immediately paused the music, but he wasn’t prepared for the cloud of Iris 39 that I brought along with me. I was very uncomfortable talking to him because I knew I over-applied my perfume and his balls were falling off because of that and no electric guitar could save them.

I remember some guy on Basenotes.net wrote, “If a man wants to wear a woman’s perfume, he is free to do so, but let’s not pretend that fragrances have no gender associations to them.” I actually agree, although I have reached the point of I don’t f*king care what others think.

But that’s just me and a small group of people (I think) who don’t care. I could have done a more thorough marketing research before deciding which gender my niche perfumes are for, but at the end, I trusted my gut instinct and designed one for each category: Beaver is unisex, Panda is for women, and Rhinoceros is for men. (Although the latter two turned out unisex.) When it came to the label art illustrations, I asked the illustrator to draw all male animal characters. I believed that most (straight) men simply would not buy a bottle or packaging with a hint of feminism. (God damn, there’s a flower!) Women, I think, are more relaxed and flexible, though. If a bottle label has a female character, I think women will most likely think that this is a women’s product; if it has a male character, they might think it’s attractive, seductive or “whatever”; for men, any hint of feminism could challenge their sense of security in their masculinity, even if the perfume itself smells unisex or masculine.

I am not sexist, but you can call me stereotypical, I’m just applying my observation to product development.

Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese by Edmond Roudnitska (2000)

Frederic Malle's Le Parfum de Therese © Victor Wong
Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese © Victor Wong

My coworker’s father was a chef at a Chinese restaurant.

“You must be the luckiest girl in town! Your home-cooked meals probably taste like restaurant’s.”

“I don’t remember what my father’s cooking tastes like.”

“How come?”

“He works for a high-stress restaurant. When he is at home, he rarely touches the stove. My mom does all the cooking.”

“He must have cooked for your mom, at least?”

“Yes, he likes to cook my mom’s favourite dish, scrambled eggs.”

“Doesn’t sound too challenging, does it?”

“It’s no ordinary scrambled eggs.”

And this was one of the reasons why I had always wanted to get a bottle of Le Parfum de Therese, by Edmond Roudnitska. He created this perfume just for his wife in the mid 50’s. Frederic Malle had always wanted to hire Mr. Roudniska to create a perfume for his own line, but it was impossible for he had already passed away in 1996. After he learned about Mrs.Therese Roudnitska’s private blend, he sincerely asked her if he could use the formula under her husband’s name, and she obliged.

I’ve always wondered, under which scenario did Mr. Roudniska create this perfume:

1) He knew what his wife liked, and made it just for her;

2) He wanted to create something not to please his clients, but for himself only, and gifted it to his wife; for all artwork needed an audience.

As a video game artist, 99% of my “artwork” are commercial, and I know creating art for others and creating art for myself are two completely different things. There’s a certain romance and mystery imbued in Le Parfum de Therese.

And the scent itself is really “strange”, by today’s standard and yesterday’s standard. The accords in this fragrance are as weird as the ingredients found in the TV cooking show “Chopped”, where contestants have no idea what the secret ingredients are, and at the end you have to make a meal out of them. In this case, you open the basket and you find: a cantaloupe, some plums, a pair of leather gloves, and a set of dumb bells. Le Parfum de Therese is a metallic melon perfume with rose and patchouli as back drop.

When I first smelled it two years ago, I could not stand it; but I was very attracted to it. After I’ve got Le Labo’s Neroli 36 and conquered the metallic accord, I was ready for Le Parfum de Therese. A year ago I gave my only sample to a friend for I knew I would get a bottle eventually. I even remembered what it smelled like. As always, the price of a Frederic Malle bottle is very prohibitive, but recently I’ve found a reason (sort of) to buy it, and there are no regrets.