Tom Ford’s Fleur de Chine (2013)

Tom Ford Fleur de Chine, 50 mL
Tom Ford Fleur de Chine, 50 mL

I remember having dinner at my sister’s home when I was a kid (there’s a big age gap between us), and my brother-in-law brought out a very tiny dish of “something” from the kitchen and asked me to try it. I took a small piece, but immediately didn’t like the texture. I tried to be polite and said I liked it. He said, “it’s marinated duck tongues. If I had told you you would not eat it.” Really, they were not for me, and I thought I just had my lifetime quota of duck tongues filled.

I told my friend about this story and he definitely had a funny reaction. His sister owns a small “Chinese restaurant” mostly for take-outs in a small city next to Toronto, and a majority of her customers are white folks. The restaurant’s most popular dish is chicken balls, which basically are small pieces of chicken dipped in some batter and deep-fried to balloon-up the size. Of course, it is not chicken ball if it is not served with a heavy ladle of sweet “red sauce” poured on top. The red sauce is made with sugar, vinegar, corn starch, red food coloring and nothing else, and according to my friend, they drink it up.

Chicken ball is not really an authentic Chinese dish per se, but in the eyes of Westerners, I think it is now. In fact, I once suggested Chinese for dinner to a white friend and his first response was, “yeah, good idea, I haven’t had chicken balls for a long time.”

So what does this have to do with Tom Ford’s Fleur de Chine? Well, if Fleur de Chine were a Chinese dish, it’s chicken ball with an extra bowl of red sauce on the side – a scent for the Westerners. Really, I am not complaining, I dig this perfume. It does smell oriental to me (oriental as in Asian, not Middle Eastern or spicy), and even resembles a tiny-teeny bit of my favorite perfume, Arpege, but it is obviously a French interpretation of a Chinese perfume – if it exists. The scent is quite fleeting, and it’s the tea and mandarin orange note that tie the very light hyacinth, wisteria, magnolia, peonies and jasmine scents together in a small, intoxicating, smooth, floral package.

I sometimes wonder what American contestants would answer if they are asked to name the most common Chinese flowers in the game show “Family Feud.” I can name a few quite right off my head for I have seen countless generic watercolour paintings in Chinese restaurants with a flower subject – peonies, orchids, plum blossoms, chrysanthemum, lotus, rhododendron, etc. They are all pretty, but scent-wise, I think except peonies and lotus have a noticeable and distinct floral scent, not too many are particularly fragrant. If the perfumer of Fleur de Chine really sticks to using only “Chinese flowers”, the perfume might not be as good?

Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir (2010)

Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir
Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir © Victor Wong

Who can rock Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir? But first, let’s take a look at some of the common comments you will find on fragrance forums about this fragrance:

  1. It smells like pee.
  2. It smells like a dirty old man
  3. It smells pungent/disgusting
  4. It smells like a farm
  5. Why?

Hmm… Let’s assume you are one of the lucky people who don’t have strong body odour, and if the above are all true, you choose to wear this perfume to… what? smell like you have just peed on your own pants? You know, accidents happen. Or do they? Or, maybe you want to smell like a farm hand after spending the morning feeding horses and stepping into soft things. Hey, you could become extra charismatic if you wear this perfume while wearing a suit, for you will become paradoxical, a city man with a country flair.

Absolue Pour le Soir is a one-of-a-kind perfume, and it completely destroys what common people perceive a perfume should smell like (i.e. people who are only exposed to Tresor, Daisy and Chanel Coco).The above comments are from people who obviously don’t like this perfume, but I wouldn’t say they are unfounded. They are, to a certain extent, true. In fact, it reminds me of unhealthy salted fish that Chinese people love to eat. (The innards of the fish are removed and packed with salt, and hung tailsup to sun-dry. The flesh eventually smells honey sweet and slightly rotten, and cut into small pieces and thrown into a rice cooker/hot pot. When the rice is ready, it’s smells savoury.)

I definitely love this perfume, but I doubt I would want a bottle at the beginning of my fragrance journey. In fact, when I told people a year ago that I had never smelled it they said they were completely surprised – you own hundreds bottles of perfume and write crazy reviews and you have never smelled it? Whoah.

If you look at the note breakdown of Absolue Pour le Soir, it’s rather simple and unsuspicious (rose, honey, incense, benzoin, ylang-ylang, cumin, Atlas cedar and sandalwood,) but the end result is absolutely animalic, warm and primordial. It unearths the emotion buried deep inside your brain by your caveman ancestors. It’s a shame that Mr. Kurkdjian decides to discontinue this gem.

Guerlain’s Nahema (1979)

Guerlain Nahema Extrait (30ml)
Guerlain Nahema Extrait (30ml)

If you have watched enough TV commercials, you probably remember Disney telling everyone that their classic animation on DVDs like Dumbo or Bambi are going to the “vault” and you will never be able to buy them again…until the Blu-ray versions come out. I think Guerlain employs a similar tactic for their less popular perfumes – they discontinue them, but a decade later they re-release them with some fancier packaging. Of course the problem is, can you wait a decade?

Recently they rang the alarm bell again and the newest victim is Nahema extrait. I never imagined they would do such thing, for I see Nahema one of the last remaining pillars of their great classics (Mitsouko, Shalimar, Jicky, L’Huere Bleue, Chamade, Vol de Nuit & Nahema)I am not a huge fan of modern Guerlain, to be honest, but I plan to collect their classic extraits, for their bottles are beautiful and Luca Turin praised them like they are the epitome of classic French perfumes.

I had already acquired a bottle of Vol de Nuit extrait, and I planned to get Chamade next, but the news destroyed my plan. Guerlain’s extraits have always been so damn expensive, when I paid for my bottle of Nahema extrait at the Guerlain boutique, I absurdly requested a big sample of Nahema extrait because I didn’t want to open mine (completely nuts and illogical, I know). And The salesperson actually found that very understandable, and she prepared a 5ml decant for me.

I love Nahema. It’s an uncontaminated jammy rose perfume made in the 80s before the oud pigeons immigrated from the Middle East and started pooping oud droppings in every rose-based perfumes. (You realize I recently said I loved Ex Idolo’s 33, a rose/oud perfume right? I am just being an ass here.) What’s so strange about Nahema is that it also smells strangely synthetic to me, but in a good way, like blue colour slushies and grape sodas. The opening is fresh, green and peachy, and shortly after you see a forklift without a hand brake crashing towards you like in the movie The Omen, and it hits the rose jam shelving units behind you and you are covered with rose and passion fruit jams like Winnie the Pooh. Nahema has some massive and ambiguous florals, almost nose-shriveling sweetness, and an unforgivingly heavy-handed rich base with vetiver and resinous and vanillary peru balsam. You can either smile or take a shower, but not both at the same time.

Ironically, Guerlain discontinues Nahema extrait because it has too much real rose and that makes it non-IFRA compliant. I’ve always thought that the rose in Nahema is synthetic, but oh well, good to know.

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.

Lanvin’s Famous Perfumes from the 20th Century, Part 5 – Crescendo

Lanvin Vintage Ads and Crescendo Extrait © Victor Wong
Lanvin Vintage Ads and Crescendo Extrait © Victor Wong

Over the many months of continuous searching for vintage Lanvin perfumes on eBay, I had come across many Lanvin’s perfume ads and posters. For more than 20 years since late 1930s, Lanvin had been grouping “My Sin”, “Arpege”, “Rumeur”, “Scandal” and “Pretexte” together in their printed ads, almost like a frequent reminder that those were their best perfume offerings. (They were. Lanvin had had other perfumes released throughout those years, but they were never a big hit.) In 1958, Crescendo debut. (Some sites say 1965, which I think is incorrect because periodicals from 1958 already mentioned of Crescendo.) It seemed to me that Lanvin was trying to make it another hit to join the “classic five”, but it had never succeeded. The big wave crests that Lanvin wanted Crescendo to make turned out to be ripples in a quiet pond, and in 1969, Lanvin discontinued it.

Compared to the “classic five” Lanvin perfumes, Crescendo is a decidedly more floral one (but it’s still an oriental spicy perfume), and it smells more interesting to me because of the ingredients used that had never* appeared in any of the “classic five” perfumes – hyacinth, linden blossom, marigold, honey, heliotrope, just to name a few. (*If my memory serves me right.) My only bottle of Crescendo is almost 50 years old, the aldehyde note is mostly gone, and with typical mid/base notes such as carnation, iris, incense, oakmoss, sandalwood and spices trying to run the show. But something is different in Crescendo if you pay a bit more attention to its floral part – it’s sweeter, more tender and creamier, and a bit more uncommon and interesting. I think it’s the hyacinth and ylang-ylang that set it apart. (I thought they were a bit more exotic for a perfume released in the 1960s, but Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs in 1913 had all the flowers mentioned above. Bitch please.)

Overall, I think Crescendo is one of the better extraits that Lanvin have ever produced, despite its short-lived glory.

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.

Lanvin’s Famous Perfumes from the 20th Century, Part 3 – Prétexte

Lanvin Pretexte Extrait © Victor Wong
Lanvin Pretexte Extrait © Victor Wong

If you are not an avid collector of vintage Lanvin perfume extraits that come in rectangle bottles, here is my unofficial guide: Extraits with silver labels and all black stoppers are the oldest (~1940s, fig.1), then comes gold labels and twist caps with gold collars (~1950s-1960s, fig. 2), and occasionally blue labels and black plastic screw caps (~1960s, for small sizes, fig. 3) and finally black labels, gold lettering and twist caps with gold collars (1970s-80s, fig. 4). Assuming the formula and the quality of the materials used have never changed, I suggest getting the ones with black labels (only apply to Arpège, My Sin and Remuer) because they smell freshest.

Lanvin Prétexte

Created by Andre Fraysse, Lanvin Prétexte debut in 1937, had a good running of 25 years, and was discontinued in 1963. I have two versions of Prétexte extraits, one that comes in a 1oz bottle with a silver label (1940s) and little samples with gold labels that indicates they are from the 1960s. The 1oz bottle is much more valuable and hard to get, but the little samples smell much better.

Pretext is a stunning, resinous, powdery, floral chypre with a strong animalic, soft leathery base. The opening has an unmistakable aldehyde note, immediately follows by two distinct scent accords of equal strength: 1) creamy soft white florals (narcissus, iris) and sandalwood and sweet tonka, and 2) a rich chypre base (patchouli, oak moss) with leather, civet, woodnotes. As the scent develops, interestingly part 1) wins and becomes a soft sandalwood floral perfume. I’d dare to say overall Prétexte smells richer and creamier than Arpège, but it doesn’t have the signature abstract floral uniqueness that Arpège possesses.