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.

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.

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?

Diptyque’s Eau Des Sens (2016)

Diptyque's Eau de Sens (2016)
Diptyque’s Eau de Sens (2016) © Victor Wong

 

I have always been excited about Diptyque’s new perfume release, particularly the artwork on the packaging. This time the label art of Eau des Sens shows an orange in the middle (for it is an orange blossom-themed perfume), and placed around the orange is the title of the perfume in the form of a swirling vortex, supposedly giving you a “Twilight Zone” opening credit mysterious feeling.

I thought, maybe the oranges used in this perfume had some hypnotic properties that made you suck lemons, but upon first spray, it didn’t, but it did create some sort of a confusion…

To me, Eau des Sens is a very straightforward orange blossom perfume, released just in time for springtime wearing. Why did they pick orange blossom for the “perfume of senses”? Why not musks? Or spices, or some complex flower accords? The marketing copy of Eau des Sens (Senses) goes like this: “A confusion of the senses – Some perceive the scent in terms of colors while others hear whispering voices, taste ambrosia or feel as if they are burrowing their noses into soft skin. Presenting Eau des Sens, an awakening of the senses.”

Just when I thought everything was just a marketing ploy, the scent progression of Eau des Sens fascinated me after I had given it a full day’s wearing, and it went like this: opening – orange blossoms + bitter orange citrus + some green accords, lasted for half an hour or so; the middle – something mildly sweet and soft that lasted for an hour or so, and finally, and suddenly, it smelled like orange blossoms again, but it’s not! It’s actually a very long lasting angelica/patchouli/juniper berries accord + the remaining of the orange blossoms in the opening that had fooled me into thinking it’s a big orange blossom perfume with hours of longevity. My conclusion: If you want an orange blossom perfume that lasts, this is it.
With this perfume, Diptyque has returned to fine form – natural smelling, easy-to-love, quite simple, with a little hippy twist.

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?

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.

Roads’ Graduate 1954 (2015)

Roads' Graduate 1954
Road’s Graduate 1954 © Victor Wong

“Oh this is Tobacco Vanille? No way I am going to wear it! It smells like my grandpa! And who is Tom Ford?”

That’s probably what your grandkids will say 50 years from now. They will say the same thing about all the oud perfumes and the expensive brands that we die to have at the moment.

After smelling different perfumes from different eras, (Lanvins, Carons, Guerlains, Diors, Tom Fords, Le Labos, etc.), I have come to an easy conclusion that perfumes are like fashion – the older the style, the more awkward it is to wear them (unless they are really, really classics). Torn jeans from the 90’s are still acceptably hip in 2015 but gigantic shoulder pads from the 80’s and bell-bottom jeans from the 70’s are now completely comical. It is occasionally fun to wear a vintage piece, but if you are wearing them everyday, people may think  there is something “awkward” or “wrong” going on with you.

Perfumes, on the other hand, are more “forgiving” because it is not visual, but still, in the most abstract way, people somehow can tell if you are wearing an old-style perfume, just like my coworkers love to say that Chanel No.5 is horribly grandma-smelling. (Disclaimer: I wear whatever perfume I like.)

My first sniff of Roads’ Graduate 1954 at a department store brought me a big smile and I thought, “This smells like some hand-me-down perfumes from someone’s grandma who has just passed away, or a mysterious no-label perfume you found in a flea market.” What’s more ironic is that the packaging of this perfume house is uber-modern and minimalistic  – making it more obvious to me that this scent wants to pay homage to vintage perfumes. In this case, I guess, perfumes from the 50’s.

There is also a revelation after smelling Graduate 1954, and it is that vintage perfumes don’t smell old because the contents have deteriorated; instead, they just smell that way because it was trendy at that time, like how a lot of perfumes from the 2010’s smell of synthetic oud, amber and caramel candies. In the case of Graduate 1954, I suspect the combination of rose, muguet, heliotrope, clove and moss/patchouli gives you a soft, feminine, and slightly uneasy scent, for the florals are ambiguous and the clove and heliotrope are having an odd interaction. It also represents the smell of a bygone golden era that I am not familiar with. It is amusing to see that it is a colorless synthetic perfume delivering such feelings instead of a dark ambery juice made out of real perfumery ingredients and aromachemicals that had not yet been banned.